Moral Objectivity and Virtue Ethics

Introduction  

            Alasdair MacIntyre’s analysis of modern moral philosophy posits Nietzschean or Aristotelian theories as logical choices from its current state. He laments the consequences of the failure of the  Enlightenment Project as the source of the ills for moral uncertainty in the twentieth century.[1] These two theories seem to represent extremes on the moral continuum. But if we assume that MacIntyre is correct, Christian apologists have a unique opportunity to leverage an argument for the restoration of moral virtue in our culture. MacIntyre’s analysis exposes a cultural vacuum of moral system options. If the hopelessness of Nietzsche is the only logical alternative to Aristotelian-Thomist virtue, our culture should be receptive to a Christian worldview which counters the pessimism.

The thesis of my essay is that the Aristotelian-Thomist virtue ethic espoused by MacIntyre is essentially correct but can only be effectively lived within a Christian framework. The initial section of my essay will be a cursory of MacIntyre’s historical judgment of the Enlightenment project. I will follow MacIntyre’s verdict with an expanded historical perspective on why the Aristotelian virtue system was set up for failure prior to the Enlightenment. The conclusion of my thesis will extol the value of a holistic Christian worldview as being an effective method for articulating and living the truth of a virtuous life.

Prior to my essay conclusion, I will confront two likely counters to my thesis. Since MacIntyre advises that the Nietzschean diagnosis is a viable logical conclusion, I will contend with this counter by offering a Christian worldview refutation of his theory. I will close the defense of my thesis by defusing the popular arguments of postmodernism that deny the possibility of a harmony of moral value and fact.

A well known axiom is that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. If apologists are seeking an opportunity to leverage the Weberian plight of our moral culture with a Christian alternative, avoiding the mistakes of the past are important. MacIntyre makes some valid judgments on how philosophies of reason failed to bring about successful ethical systems.

Failure of the Enlightenment Project

            MacIntyre refers to the sociology of Max Weber as being spot on for the contemporary vision of the world on which the consensus morality is based. Weber developed a methodology by which social behavior is essentially individually driven and prone to the irrationality of emotions. While he did not deny the possibility of an “ideal” type of rational cause in a general sense, he explained that the reality of social structures is comprised of people who are largely motivated by irrational causes. In his definition of methodological foundations he states:

“By comparison with this it is possible to understand the ways in which actual action is influenced by irrational factors of all sorts, … in that they account for the deviation from the line of conduct which would be expected on the hypothesis that the action were purely rational.”[2]

The reference by MacIntyre to Weberian theme and vision to contemporary morality indicates that ethical and social structures are dominantly driven by emotive causes. He further elaborates on the irrationality basis for his definition of sociological methodology with:

“It is naturally not legitimate to interpret this procedure as involving a “rationalistic bias” of sociology, but only as a methodological device. It certainly does not involve a belief in the actual predominance of rational elements in human life … there is, however, a danger of rationalistic interpretations where they are out of place naturally cannot be denied. All experience unfortunately confirms the existence of this danger.”[3]

MacIntyre is not suggesting that Weber is responsible for the contemporary vision of sociology and moral frameworks.  But rather, Weber accurately defines a system which is best understood and manipulated utilizing his sociological methodologies. The accountability for the decline of morality into an irrationally driven system is laid upon the failure of the Enlightenment project and its rationally constrained moral philosophers. Weber’s sociology was a product of the failure and not the cause. The irrational emotivism in contemporary culture is a rebellion against the failure of rational enlightenment philosophers to construct a unified moral system.

The dominant historical predecessor to Enlightenment moral schemes was the classical Aristotelian virtue model. Three elements comprised this teleological scheme. “Man-as-he-happens-to-be” was contrasted with “man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential nature.” Ethics is the science which teaches men how to make the transition from the former to the latter.[4] The third element in the teleological scheme is the presuppositional telos of man. Note how this triad model is tensioned. The differentiation of qualitative character is made possible by the presupposition of the telos standard.

Aristotelian metaphysical biology promotes the idea that all species have a specific nature. Therefore, a species naturally migrates towards certain aims and goals. These ends are the telos. For human flourishing to occur, virtues must be learned and developed for an individual to achieve eudaimonia which is translated from the Greek to mean blessedness, happiness, and prosperity.[5]

The corruption of the Aristotelian system by the Enlightenment project was the elimination of the telos standard defined by the virtues. The idea that there is a means to achieve goodness for man without an acknowledgement or exercise of the virtues is futile.[6] But that was the effect of Enlightenment rationally-based systems.

MacIntyre identifies Hume and Diderot as reasoning from a premise that human nature is driven by the passions. And Kant was identified as reasoning from a premise that human nature cannot possibly be the universal of morality. He instead, postulates a practical rule of reason to justify a moral standard. Kierkegaard did not attempt to justify a moral standard by reason or passions but advocated a leap of faith towards a moral system which presumed fundamental moral decision-making in human nature.[7]

All of these philosophers of the Enlightenment period destroyed the working framework of the ancient Aristotelian virtue tradition. MacIntyre identifies the common culprit of each of these philosopher’s theories with a flawed concept of human nature. It was flawed since it denied the telos of man.[8] The failure of their definitions of human nature began a trend of distrust in scientific systems, and in reason generally, for any hope in resolving the sociological conflicts of culture. Weber’s sociological methodologies were accurate because reason had failed and been replaced by irrational-emotive morality.

But was the Aristotelian moral scheme as robust in structure and practice in medieval times as MacIntyre seems to infer? I think not. The nemesis of the Aristotelian scheme is ancient and has its roots in classical Greek thought beginning with Plato.

What Led to the Failure of the Enlightenment Project?

            The failure of moral attempts is artistically expressed in Raphael’s The School of Athens painting.  Two of the portrayed characters in this work of art are Plato and Aristotle.  The two men are prominently positioned in the center of the painting with Plato pointing upward and Aristotle spreading his hands downward. These postures are symbolic of their philosophies. Plato emphasized the ideals of the universals and Aristotle the natural world of particulars.[9] Subtlety expressed in this classic art is the contemporary moral dilemma. 

            Plato structured a comprehensive worldview for reality.  His philosophy was rational, defensible and open-ended.[10] He initiated a classical framework for dualism. The universals and particulars. The immaterial and the material. However, his emphasis on the Forms introduced a philosophical chasm that man was incapable of crossing. Although Plato appealed to an ideal standard, he did not provide a solution for man to achieve a unity of his material and immaterial parts.

Plato’s Theory of the Recollections suggested an ideal for man in that he came “prepackaged” with at least the idea of the good.[11] Nonetheless his hierarchy established immaterial reality as the ideal. Natural man was hopelessly immersed in a material world. There seemed to be an infinite amount of rungs down the ladder for a climb upward to satisfy man’s prepackaged Recollection. And thus his greatest student presented a solution.

Aristotle revised Plato’s dualism and hierarchy to be more practical. It certainly had significant areas of disagreement. Aristotle stressed that all things have matter and form. Matter is stuff with potential. The form gives stuff essence. Living creatures have the form of a soul but the soul is more then just the form for it includes the material stuff. This is the salient differentiation between Plato and Aristotle. Aristotle rejected the Platonic notion that  the soul can exist apart from the body.[12]  It is no wonder that Aristotle was named the Naturalist for his metaphysics integrated the wholeness of man into a natural entity.[13] Aristotle’s metaphysical biology insisted that humans are not humans because they are made of human stuff but because they function as humans. The significant function of humans was to reason.[14]

The quarrel that lead to the fact-value dichotomy had its formal beginning in classical Greek philosophy.[15] Was man hopelessly imperfect in his material form or was he potentially everything he could possibly be in his bodily form? If we fast forward about 15 centuries Thomas Aquinas comes to the rescue.

Aquinas’ philosophy was a Christian form of Aristotle but his notion of the interaction of nature and grace created a crack in Aristotle’s integrated notion of the human soul.[16] Aquinas had the benefit of over 1000 years of Christianity from which to develop his moral thesis. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the dark ages, and up until his time, an overwhelming emphasis had been placed on heavenly things. Perhaps it was the dismal conditions of social structures during the dark ages. In a sense, the focus on the heavenly was a throw back to Plato’s hierarchy of reality. As a consequence of this focus, Christianity had very little interest in nature. Aquinas changed all of that and his thought birthed the humanistic elements of the Renaissance. His philosophy of natural theology launched the hope and pursuit of knowledge independent of scripture. This hope was founded on Aquinas’ view of the fall. His view held that the will of man is fallen but not his intellect.[17] But Aquinas definitely proposed a unity of man and expressed that there is a correlation between nature and divine through natural theology and the special revelation of scripture.[18] However, the crack he unwittingly introduced by definition of the two realms of grace and nature, coupled with his positivism of human reason, planted the seeds of Enlightenment Philosophy and led to its ultimate failure.

As noted earlier in this essay, Enlightenment moral philosophers eliminated the binding element of human telos from Aristotelian and Thomistic models and replaced it with a high aspiration for reason to bind it all together. Prior to the full development of Thomist moral theory, western man had three basic principles to comprise practical philosophy.

The first principle was that man was rationalistic. Man begins totally from himself, gathers information, and formulates models of reality. The second principle was that man believed in the rational. If a certain thing was true its opposite was not true. This is antithetical thought. From a moral perspective, if a thing was right, the opposite was wrong. The third principle was that man believed philosophy would construct unified knowledge. These principles motivated aspirations that by the means of rationalism and rationality they would find a complete answer for resolving moral conflicts.[19] The failure of the Enlightenment Project so named by MacIntyre was a failure for a satisfying unified knowledge of reality.

Plato’s theory of Recollection and Kant’s theory of Practical Reason demonstrates the full cycle of pendulum swing over 2000 years of western thought . Plato theorized that man’s ability to learn and his shadowy perception of the ideal was  a “prepackaged” idea of the good. Kant reiterated this type of fuzziness in his theory of Practical Reason. “Moral function of reason produces religious feelings and intuitions on knowledge of moral conduct.”[20] Great minds have struggled with models for explaining the dualistic nature of man and seems to have failed. Postmodernism has given up trying to know the truth and naturalism denies the dualism of man that seems to be intuitive. Is there a solution?

The Value of a Christian Worldview for the Success of Virtue Ethics

            Alasdair MacIntyre advocates a return to the moral philosophy of Aristotle in the revised Thomist tradition as the solution. There is reason for hope in this model if the telos of man is biblically based on the doctrine of Imago Dei. But what does it mean to be made in the image of God?

            Humans have a moral component and inherently understand right and wrong. Humans are spiritual beings with an intuitive recognition of life beyond the physical. He has a propensity towards worship and seeking after God. Humans are relational and desperately need a working model for moral and ethical behavior in sociological structure. Humans have mental capacity with an ability to reason.[21] Therefore, the solution to a unified moral system must include the integration of the image of God as a foundation.

            Dr. Henry Cloud defines “integrity” as the courage to meet the demands of reality.[22] A successful moral philosophy which integrates Thomist substance dualism can be facilitated through a three part Christian worldview. The answers to these three questions must be understood by anyone who wants to live with integrity.

  1. Where did I come from?
  2. What is wrong with me?
  3. What can I do to make myself right?[23]

The answer to question one lies in the Christian doctrine of creation. Everyone is created in the image of God. As a creature designed by God, the physical part of man is not evil but good and has a purpose, function, or telos. The second answer lies in the Christian doctrine of the fall. Since man is the masterpiece of God’s creation the destructiveness of sin creates misery.[24] For human flourishing to be realized in the elusive Aristotelian eudaimonia sense, redemption is necessary. Christ atoned from man’s sins through his life, death, and resurrection. If man becomes a new creature in Christ, the shadowy Platonic Recollection is lightened and hope for integrity is realized. The dichotomy between fact and value is converged into a unified reality.

But MacIntyre advises that our contemporary moral state has two logical options and the thesis of this essay has advocated a Thomist Virtue ethic as a solution based on a worldview predicated on Imago Dei. Is the Nietzschean alternative viable?

The Nietzschean Alternative

            MacIntyre agrees with Nietzsche’s pronouncement of failure on Enlightenment positivism but not his solution.[25] According to Nietzsche, the same desires that attract man to science’s false promise of control and objectivity are the same that attract us to utilitarian and Kantian ethics. It is a superficially optimistic belief that scientific progress and morality will make life meaningful.[26]

            Nietzsche’s recommendation is that all life and happiness are governed by the will to power. The will to power is man’s “intrinsic and inexorable ache for more…includes but exceeds the will to self-preservation…it seeks … an intensification of life.”[27] The refutation of Nietzsche’s proposition is two-fold.

            Has science really failed to provide a modicum of success in its promise of control and objectivity? Perhaps Nietzsche would still affirm this but he would not be the consensus. Science has found useful knowledge through the investigation of nature that is objective enough for useful technology. Modern man experiences the benefits of scientifically objective truth to the extent that few in the modern western world want for basic survival and comfort. 

            A second refutation emerges from man’s experience of human flourishing. Libraries are full of biographies and a plethora of movies lament the consequences of lives spent on the economy of a selfish will to power. Nietzsche’s philosophy is repulsive to all but the extreme in our world. It is not viable. However, there is another reaction to the unrealized expectations of modernity.

Postmodern Criticisms

Postmodernism is the result of too much confidence in science. After all, the 20th century demonstrated great strides in technological advancement that placed a man on the moon and confirmed many of Einstein’s predictions concerning the origins of our universe. But miserable failures were also exhibited in the atrocities of two world wars and continued economic inequality.[28] Some would call the verdict on scientific solutions to be a draw at best. Are we any happier?  Is evil mitigated by scientific advances? 

Some postmoderns would answer that we are not better off as a result of science. Therefore, reason is incapable of a solution to the problem of morality. And thus, postmoderns have given up looking for objective truth and substituted a truth that works within a social community. This philosophy fits well with the unrealized expectations from science and the rampant pluralism in our technology shrunken world.

But the criticisms of postmodernism are vulnerable to the same refutations to Nietzsche. While Enlightenment moral philosophers exaggerated the future progress of reason, more truth has indeed been established.  However, there are limits to natural explanations and for immaterial solutions man needs to look to the supernatural. This is the explanatory power of Thomist substance dualism. A balanced perspective of reality facilitates access to solutions from the natural and supernatural. The immaterial substance of man is moral and cannot expect to find solutions in the domain of natural reason. 

Conclusion

            The thesis of my essay was that the Aristotelian-Thomist virtue ethic espoused by MacIntyre can only be effectively lived within a Christian framework. This framework provides a solution for human flourishing. The foundation of my thesis summarized MacIntyre’s assessment of the failure of the Enlightenment project to provide a unified moral system. I followed the summary with an expansion on the history of moral philosophical failure and claimed that the problem ebbs and flows as a result of an imbalance in emphasis on epistemological source. There is either too much emphasis on the heavenly or too much emphasis on the natural. I concluded my thesis point by offering a Christian worldview structure for defining a balanced understanding of man’s ontology.  I briefly addressed possible counters to my thesis by Nietzschean and postmodern proponents.

            Worldview is a translation of the German word “Weltanschauung” which means a way of looking at the world. [29] Christians believe there is a proper way of looking at the world. Reality must be envisioned with clarity to live with the wholeness of integrity. Reality is comprised of natural and transcendent laws. Man is made in the image of God but corrupted by sin. Unless sin is remedied the transcendent component of reality is incoherent with the natural. But man can flourish and live with the courage to meet the demands of reality.[30] The atonement of Jesus Christ is available to bring clarity of the transcendent and moral truth. As new creatures in Christ, the Holy Spirit transforms man’s carnal nature to live with wholeness and a true moral compass.

Bibliography

Cloud, Dr. Henry. Integrity. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

Heydebrand, Wolf. The Sociology of Max Weber. Continuum, 1994. Sections on foundations reproduced on  http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/weber.htm (accessed Dec. 16, 2011).

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue Third Edition. Notre Dame, IN:University ofNotre Dame Press, 2010.

Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth. Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books, 2005.

Rana, Fazale, with Hugh Ross. Who was Adam? Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005.

Reynolds, John Mark. When Athens Met Jerusalem. Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Schaeffer, Francis. Escape from Reason: Francis Schaeffer Trilogy. Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books, 1990.

Smith, R. Scott. Ethics and the Search for Moral Knowledge. La Mirada, CA: Biola University, 2005.

Soccio, Douglas J. Archetypes of Wisdom. Belmont,CA:Wadsworth Publishing, 1998.


[1] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue Third Edition (Notre Dame, IN:University ofNotre Dame Press, 2010), 118.

[2] Wolf Heydebrand, The Sociology of Max Weber (Continuum, 1994), Sections on foundations reproduced on  http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/ge/weber.htm (accessed Dec. 16, 2011).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue Third Edition (Notre Dame, IN:University ofNotre Dame Press, 2010), 52.

[5] Ibid, 148.

[6] Ibid, 149.

[7] Ibid, 52.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Francis Schaeffer, Escape from Reason: Francis Schaeffer Trilogy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 215.

[10] John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 87.

[11] Ibid, 77.

[12] Ibid, 190.

[13] Douglas J. Soccio, Archetypes of Wisdom (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 155.

[14] John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 190.

[15] R Scott Smith, Ethics and the Search for Moral Knowledge. (La Mirada,CA:BiolaUniversity, 2005), 311.

[16] Francis Schaeffer, Escape from Reason: Francis Schaeffer Trilogy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1990), 209.

[17] Ibid, 210.

[18] Ibid, 211.

[19] Ibid, 229.

[20] Douglas J. Soccio, Archetypes of Wisdom (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 399.

[21] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 79

[22] Dr. Henry Cloud, Integrity (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 24.

[23] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 87.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue Third Edition (Notre Dame, IN:University ofNotre Dame Press, 2010), 118.

[26] Douglas J. Soccio, Archetypes of Wisdom (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 570-571.

[27] Ibid, 569.

[28] R Scott Smith, Ethics and the Search for Moral Knowledge. (La Mirada, CA: Biola University, 2005), 173-174.

[29] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 23.

[30] Dr. Henry Cloud, Integrity (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 24.

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Scientific Investigation for the Image of God in Man

Introduction

            King David asks a question of God in one of his Psalms. “What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”[1] The famous late biologist Jay Gould answered King David’s question since he didn’t believe God existed. Man is “a thing so small in a vast universe. A wildly improbable evolutionary event.”[2] At least Gould shared King David’s wonder in comparing the irony of man seeking significance in an incomprehensively vast universe. Both these men arrived at completely different conclusions.

            King David answered his own question in a later Psalm. “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all of my ways.”[3] Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA structure thinks King David was delusional. He advised biologists that they “must keep in mind that what they see is not designed but evolved.”[4] If we evolved then our sense of significance is an illusion. Is Jay Gould right or was King David right?

            Science is considered the king of epistemological sources amongst many people today. No wonder that existentialism and postmodernism have become a popular philosophy. If significance is an illusion then the only option is to make something up. To live without significance is a miserable existence.

          The purpose of my essay is to analyze scientific data and theories that are relevant in answering King David’s question. Are the answers only found in metaphysical presuppositions or are there scientific revelations that provide hope for a purposeful significance for the species of man? I will explore three areas. Initially I will summarize primary Christian creation models and question the inferences to man’s position in these theories. Secondly, I will present the Christian concept of Imago Dei and the interpretational structure this concept has on the scientific search for the origin of man.  And last, I will review the modern discoveries of science and how they are trending towards answering the ultimate question about our species. A comprehensive worldview starts with the question, “Where did we come from?”[5] Creation models are a good place to start.

 

 

 

Where Did We Come From?

          The definition of man is greatly influenced by creation models. There are three models prevalent amongst Christians. A brief summary of each model and its general inferences to the essay purpose follows.

Young Earth Creationist Model

            Young Earth Creationist (YEC) are often referred to as “literalists.” YEC proponents strictly adhere to a rigid interpretation of Genesis and insist that Genesis One activity occurred in six literal solar days.[6] The paradigm of YEC is from a perspective that denies the application of scientific constraints on special creation. The meaning and purpose of Genesis One cannot be determined from science. “The scientific method is limited to the study of processes as they occur at present, not as they might have occurred in the past.”[7] YEC’s contend that their model is the only one which is truly differentiated from evolution.  They warn that models amongst evangelicals which try to harmonize with science do so with biblical exegetical error and heresy.

            YEC’s promote an Appearance of Age theory which advises that creation was mature from its birth. God formed creation full-grown and this includes Adam and Eve.[8] “The whole universe had an ‘appearance of history’ right from the start.”[9] The YEC model dismisses evidence for the Big Bang as being fallacious and attacks consensus evidence such as the universal background radiation and red shift theories which are used to confirm the age of the universe and its expansion.[10]

            With regards to the appearance of man with relation to scientific data there is no fuzziness in the YEC model. Man was a virtual contemporary with every other species inclusive of hominids. YEC proponents do not try to harmonize cosmological beginnings with science and advise that it is futile.  Cosmologies are not theories but frameworks according to YEC advocates. A framework cannot be tested or falsified. The decision about human evolution comes down to “which faith is more reasonable – faith in a completed creation or faith in an ongoing evolution?”[11]


Old Earth Creation Model

            The Old Earth Creation model (OEC) attempts to harmonize current scientific theories of the universal origin to the special revelation of Genesis. The OEC model is synonymous with Progressive Creationism. This name seems more apropos. The model states that God created the world directly and purposely without leaving anything to evolutionary chance. But rather than accomplishing creation in six literal solar days, God did it over long periods of time that correspond to scientific established geological ages. Besides the difference in the creation period, a salient difference between YEC and OEC models is that OEC proponents believe creation is still going on.[12]

            Progressive Creationists enthusiastically endorse Big Bang evidence as confirmation of linear time inference in Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”[13] They welcome continued confirmation of the universal cosmic background radiation and red shift measurements of the expanding universe. Unlike YEC opinion, Progressive Creationists advise that their model will continue to be confirmed by scientific discovery. It is a model which can become more reasonable with validated hypothesis. “Careful research in the area of science/scripture interactions are expected to be a means to an end  … it is hoped that this … will encourage Christians in believing that God has communicated basic (and even complex) scientific truths in the non-technical vocabulary of ancient Israel (Genesis scripture).”[14]

            While the “Appearance of Age” theory of YEC is a typical vulnerability of its model, the OEC model finds it potential nemesis in the “God of the Gaps” theory. The “God of the Gaps” issue is an argument against progressive creation amongst both YEC and evolutionists.  The ardent late YEC pioneer of the 20th century, Dr. Harold Morris, condemns Progressive Creationists with more criticism than full-fledge atheists specifically because of the “God of the Gap” problem. “Progressive Creationism imagines a world that has to be pumped up with new spurts of creative energy and guidance whenever the previous injection runs down or misdirects.”[15] Dr. Hugh Ross, founder of Reasons to Believe, confesses “Christians tended to use gaps in understanding or data to build a case for God’s miraculous intervention. Then, when scientific discoveries uncovered a natural explanation for the ‘divine phenomenon,’ ridicule was heaped … on belief in God’s existence.”[16]

            The salient differentiation between OEC, or Progressive Creationists, and Theistic Evolutionists (TE) is related to the vulnerability of the “God of the Gaps” accusation. There is hope between both of these Christian model proponents that through the advancement of scientific research the gaps will be mitigated. The significant difference between the two is that Progressive Creationists acknowledge that increased knowledge may fail to illuminate present mysteries where supernatural explanations can succeed.[17]  TE proponents are more stubborn in the provision of supernatural involvement and seek to eliminate all non-scientific explanations.

Theistic Evolution

            It is ironic that Dr. Henry Morris provides one of the most succinct definitions of the difference between OEC and TE proponents. “Theistic evolution at least assumes a God able to plan and energize the total ‘creation’ process right at the start.”[18] TE advocates seek to illuminate the special revelation of the bible with scientific evidence. They seek to eliminate all inferences to supernatural involvement in creation post ex nihilo. TE scientist Howard Van Till admits the possibility of biological evolution for the formation of man.[19] “Many treat the macro evolutionary paradigm, which envisions an uninterrupted genealogical continuity from the first life-forms to us, with an unreasoned, ill-informed and sometimes ill-mannered hostility that will ultimately be self-defeating.”[20]

Summary of Creation Models to Image of God Issues

            Ian Barbour is a professor of theology and physics atCarltonCollegeinMinnesota. He defined paradigm models for how science and religion relate. They are briefly summarized below:

  • Conflict – Serious conflicts exist between science and religion which are irreconcilable.
  • Independence – Science and religion are two independent domains which provide knowledge about different types of questions.
  • Dialogue – Science and religion relate to one another by indirect interactions and negotiations over boundary questions and methods.
  • Integration – Science and religion have direct interactions and both should contribute to a coherent worldview.[21]

 

The following table summarizes origin models inclusive of evolutionary atheism with correlating strengths, weaknesses, and Barbour’s relationship model.

 

Model

 

Strengths

 

Weaknesses

 

Relationship Model

 

Young Earth

Simplifies Identification of Origin of Man

 

Incompatible with Origin Science

 

Conflict

 

Progressive Creationism

 

Compatible with Science

  1. Vulnerable to Gap Attacks
  2. Difficult to Identify Origin of Man in model

 

Dialogue/

Integration

 

Theistic Evolution

 

Compatible with Science

1. Biblical interpretation

vulnerability

2. Difficult to Identify Origin of Man in model

 

Independence

Atheistic Evolution

No Conflict with Science

Denies Image of God in Man

Conflict

 

Origin Model Comparison Summary and the Origin of Man Inferences

 

Identifying the origin of man in creation models ought to be a major concern for evangelicals when reconciling reason and faith. It is difficult to exegete Genesis 1:26 and not invoke some form of supernatural interruption in the creation process for all creation models except YEC. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness.’”[22] And Genesis 2:7 provides some interpretation challenges to these models as well. “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostril the breath of life, and the man became a living thing.”[23]

The next section of my essay addresses the issue of the Image of God, the doctrine of Imago Dei. If science does have the ability to confirm biblical inferences of creation, then what trends should be investigated for a coherent Christian worldview between science and faith?


Imago Dei

      The Christian doctrine of Imago Dei has foundation in the Genesis 1:26 revelation “let us [triune God] make man in our own image.” Therefore, I will look to scripture for establishing the qualities of man that are described by God’s special revelation.

Man is Body, Soul, and Spirit

“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all of your soul and with all of your mind.”[24] This is the greatest commandment as spoken from Jesus Christ, the son of God.  The Greek words used in the greatest commandment for heart, soul, and mind are cardia, psyche, and dianoia respectively.[25] The terms “soul” and “heart” can be ambiguous. Thomas Aquinas taught that man’s soul is a particular essence and the body is in deep unity with the soul.[26] The Image of God find its home in the immaterial part of man. Man is rational and is instructed to rule the appetites with the mind through the heart.[27] “Present your bodies as living sacrifices …. [and] be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”[28]

Man is Designed to Worship

“God is a spirit and His worshippers must worship him in spirit and truth.”[29] Man has an innate desire to seek and worship God. Although man fell from spiritual perfection, the bible teaches that God’s “eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”[30]

Man has a Moral Nature

God provided Moses the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20. However, many of these laws were already known within the heart of man prior to being supernaturally scribed. God’s law simply confirmed to man what was sin. And man wrestles with a desire to do right despite a carnal nature that resists the Image of God’s moral qualities within him. Man has a sense of right and wrong and an innate sense of justice.[31]

Man has a Cultural Mandate

“Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish and the sea and the birds of the air and all of the creatures.”[32] God created man with exceptional intellect that is unquestionably above the rest of the animal kingdom. The cultural mandate authorizes man to be in charge of the earth and to enhance its habitability through design, innovation, and the arts.

Summary of Image Bearing Qualities

The challenge of harmonizing science with the appearance of man in history is one which the Progressive Creationists have accepted. YEC and TE proponents are not heavily vested in harmonization as their Barbour models are Conflict andIndependencerespectively. Therefore, the next section of my essay assumes the position of a Progressive Creationist and confronts the trends of science which are tensioned with the Origin of Man.

Scientific Discoveries and the Origin of Man

Philosophy of science Professor Karl Popper advised that “agreement between theory and observation should count for nothing unless the theory is a testable theory … and a theory is testable if it is refutable.”[33] Consistent with Popper’s advice, Dr. Hugh Ross proclaims that “creation is testable. The concept of creation has entered the scientific domain.”[34] A creation model’s framework can be tested, adjusted, and fine-tuned as scientists and theologians analyze new discoveries and gain insight.[35] This is consistent with Barbour’s Dialogue and Integration models of science/religion relationships.

The Progressive Creationist can find evidence for the origin of man in three areas of science:

  • Paleoanthropology – fossil record and morphological studies
  • Archeologically – evidence of sophisticated tools, innovation, technology, art, and worship
  • Genetics – Molecular anthropology and genetic studies

Paleoanthropology

Progressive Creationists are careful to consider how the morphological evidence correlates with archaeology and genetics before rendering an opinion on whether a fossil is human or hominid. A specific example is evident in the classification of the well known Neanderthal species. Dr. Fazale Rana of Reasons to Believe states unequivocally “Neanderthals lacked the necessary brain structure to think and act in a way that reflects God’s image.”[36] While Professor Lubenow, a YEC expert in fossils, announces that his primary thesis in Bones of Contention was to dispel the evolutionary theory that Homo erectus , Neanderthals, and Homo sapiens were nothing but “contemporary humans created by God.”[37]

Morphological evidence must be carefully correlated to archeological evidence when classifying a fossil specimen. The Progressive Creationist prioritizes behavior and culture ahead of biological characteristics. Therefore, the model prediction by Progressive creationists would expect to see signs of human behavior correlated with a morphology within the species variation range of man.

Paleoanthropology has a complex nomenclature. Below are some specie definitions used by creationists when researching evidence in the fossil record.

Hominid:

Word used by evolutionists to describe humans and their ancestors.[38] Creationists take exception to this definition. Both Dr. Lubenow and Dr. Ross differentiate hominids from the biblical Adam. Hominids walked erect, possessed limited intelligence,  and emotional capacities but were animals created by God’s direct intervention.[39]

Australopithecus:

The earliest significant hominid according to evolutionist from 4 – 3 million years ago.[40]

Homo habilis:

A subsequent hominid after the evolutionary bifurcation from australopithecus between humans and extinct hominids from 2 – 1 million years ago.[41]

Homo erectus:

A hominid which evolutionist consider to precede early homo sapiens from 1.5 to 1 million years ago[42] which geographically originated in Asia in the Multi-Regional genetic model.[43]


Homo ergaster:

A hominid which evolutionist consider to precede early homo sapiens from 1.5 to 1 million years ago[44] which geographically originated in Africa in the Multi-Regional genetic model.[45]

Morphological Criteria for Hominid v Human Differentiation

Bipedalism is a distinguishing characteristic of hominids and man. Among the morphological criteria related to this function are spinal curvature, the rib cage, pelvis shape, lower limb to upper torso ratio, joint surfaces, foot structure, and muscle organization.[46]

Brain size is a distinguishing characteristic amongst varies species of hominids and man. Fossil categorization is accomplished by cranial volume and encephalization quotients. Encephalization quotient is a ratio of brain size to body mass.[47]

The ability for language is a distinguishing characteristic particular to modern man. Compared to hominids, human beings have a shorter skull which allows for a lower larynx. The larger air space provided by this feature allows people to produce the range of sounds for spoken language.[48]

Paleoanthropology Discovery Trends

The total number of hominid fossils found to date are approximately 8000 and from this pool of evidence the puzzle of origin is analyzed.[49] In 1999, the Chief Science Writer for Nature pessimistically summarized the trend of the fossil record for proving evolution. “The intervals of time that separate fossils are so huge that we cannot say anything definite about their possible connection through ancestry and descent.”[50] Bipedalism does not seem to occur gradually in the fossil record and instead there exists a significant difference between humans and hominids in all of the bipedalism features.[51] Likewise encephalization quotients (EQ) are not gradual. Humans have an EQ of 5.8, australopithecus 2.5, homo habilis 3.1 and homo erectus/ergaster is 3.3.[52]


Archaeology

Technology development is classified chronologically by evolutionist to denote the sophistication of tools. The table below summarizes the technology descriptions with correlating specie associations.

Technology

Chronology

Tool Description

Associated Species

Oldowan

2.5 – 1.65 mya

Sharp edge stone flakes

Australopithecus

 

Acheulean

1.65 – 0.25 mya

Stones flaked to a tear drop point.

Homo habilis

Homo erectus

Homo ergaster

 

Middle Stone Age

0.25 – 0.05 mya

More refined stone flake tools than Acheulean

Neanderthals

Archaic homo sapiens

 

Later Stone Age

0.05 – to human history

Use of ivory, wood in stone flake tool of greater precision and smaller size.

Confirmed use of Fire

 

Humans

 

Technology by Evolutionary Chronology[53]

Archaeology Trends

            Darwinpredicted that “the difference in mind between man and the higher animals, great as it is, certainly is one of degree, and not of kind.[54] However, if man was created in the Image of God separate from hominids, an abrupt behavioral pattern should occur in the record to correlate with the appearance of man.[55] The biblical pattern seems to be the case rather than Darwin’s gradual prophesy. The archaeological record sees an explosion of civilization that has been called anthropology’s ‘big bang.’”[56]

Genetic

            Molecular anthropologist and geneticists have utilized a minimum of 14 methods to better understand the early history of man and ancestry.[57] Two of the most telling methods relate to mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA. Mitochondrial DNA analysis produces data that can be used to trace maternal lineage of human populations.[58] Y chromosome DNA analysis produces data that can be used to trace paternal lineage of human populations.[59]

            Comparisons of the human genome to other primates also provide data for analysis of possible shared ancestry. Dr. Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project, cites the existence of “junk DNA” as a sign that evolution may be onto something with regards to man’s common descent from other species. Collins asks the question, “if humans arose as a consequence of supernatural special creation … why would God have gone to the trouble of inserting such a nonfunctional gene [junk DNA] in this precise location?”[60] Indeed the notion of “junk DNA” goes against the argument for an Intelligent Designer.

Genetic Science Trends

            Until recently, the multiregional hypothesis was the consensus amongst evolutionary biologists. This hypothesis explained that modern humans evolved simultaneously but geographically separated in different hominid populations. Homo erectus evolved to humans in Asia, while Neanderthals evolved to humans in Europe, and Homo ergaster evolved to humans in Africa.[61] This theory may have been driven from an evolutionary paradigm rather than genetic or paleoanthropological study.  The trend is towards an alternative model called the Out of Africa hypothesis. This model is partly based on mitochondrial and Y chromosome DNA analysis that is sourced to a very small population of humans in north east Africa near modern day Ethiopia.[62] Although genetics trace human origins to a single woman and man, some evolutionary biologists will not concede this single pair was human but an earlier hominid ancestor. There opinion is based on the possibility of a loss of a genetic human trace over time.[63]

Breaking discoveries in DNA are also trending towards a purpose for “junk DNA”. Scientists like Richard Dawkins, Francis Crick, and W. Ford Doolittle have all assumed that “junk DNA” was an unnecessary by-product of mutational processes. Progressive Creationist aligned with Intelligent Design proponents advocate that this non-coding region of the genome should play a functional role in the cell.[64] Very recent discoveries have confirmed that pseudo genes or “junk DNA” are actually functional.  An example of a pseudo gene function was discovered in fish of subfreezing environments. The “junk DNA” was found to serve a key function in a new type of antifreeze protein. Perhaps the Creator has intentionally designed these pseudo genes in to the genomes of humans, chimpanzees, and other organisms for other reasons yet to be discovered.[65]


Summary of Scientific Discovery Trends

All of the scientific trends listed in this section of the essay are affirming the Progressive Creationist model. The step function leaps in paleoanthropology and archaeology refute a gradual progression of Darwinian macro-evolution towards man. Molecular DNA analysis points towards a single couple responsible for all of the human population in a geographical region closely associated with the biblical Garden of Eden.  Even Francis Collins has revised his attitude about “junk DNA.” Collins no longer relies on “junk DNA” and has stopped using the term.[66] “If you thought the DNA molecule comprised thousands of genes but far more ‘junk,’ think again.”[67]

Conclusion

            I have provided an overview of the creation models and scientific trends associated with the origin of man. Initially, I presented the primary Creation Models utilized by evangelicals and discussed the inferred relationship of each of those models to science. The second part of my essay focused on the doctrine of Imago Dei. Since evolution is antithetical to the Thomist substance dualism advocated by the Imago Dei doctrine, it is vital to understand if man is completely defined by only a material evolution process or a divinely appointed supernatural design. The final part of my essay briefly reviewed scientific topics and trends necessary in a study of the origin of man.  My position during this section was that of a Progressive Creationist which places scientific coherency as an important tenet of  a comprehensive world view .

            Carl Sagan had a profound belief in the ability of science to lead us to truth. “Science is also self correcting … this self questioning and now error-correcting aspect of science is its most striking property and it sets it off from other areas of human endeavor such as … theology,”[68]  Scientific trends indicate that some of the models of evolution need revision. Sagan recommends that theology learn from the example set by science. Perhaps if Sagan were alive today, he could take some pointers from truth seeking Progressive Creationists. The science related to the origin of man has great relevance to man’s search for significance. Naturalism wants to reduce man to a bundle of chemicals and our ethics and morality as nothing more then the brain responding to stimuli.[69] We must remember that knowledge of our brain does not give us knowledge of our mind.[70] Man “is fearfully and wonderfully made”[71] in the image of God.

Bibliography

Barbour, Ian G. Religion in the Age of Science. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990.

Boice, James Montgomery. Genesis, an expositional commentary, vol. 1 .Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982.

Collins, Francis S. The Language of God. New York: Free Press, 2006.

Crick, Francis. What Mad Pursuit.  New York: Basic Books, 1988.

Garvey, James. Continuum Companion to Philosophy of Mind. London: Continuum International Publishing, 2011.

Gilson, Tom. “Hunter-Gatherer Nut Cases,” Salvo, Issue 19 Winter 2011.

Gould, Stephen Jay. Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History. New York: Norton, 1989.

Kushiner, James M. “A Matter of Mind,” Salvo, Issue 19 Winter 2011.

Lewin, Roger. Principles of Human Evolution: A Core Textbook. Malden,MA: Blackwell Science, 1998.

Lewis, C.S. The Abolition of Man. New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2001.

Lubenow, Marvin L. Bones of Contention. Grand Rapids,MI: BakerBooks, 2004.

Luskin, Casey. “DNA Trash Talk,” Salvo, Issue 18 Autumn 2011.

Meyer, Stephen C. Signature in the Cell DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design. New York: HarperOne, 2009.

Morris, Henry M., and John D. Morris. The Modern Trilogy Volume 1: Scripture & Creation: Computer Readable Version. Masters Books, 1996.

Morris, Dr. Henry M. and Dr. John D. Morris. The Modern Creation Trilogy Volume II: Science and Creation.Green Forest,AR: Master Books, 1996.

Newman, Robert C., and Herman J. Eckelmann Jr. Genesis One & The Origin of the Earth. Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977.

Pearcey, Nancy. Total Truth. Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books, 2005.

Popper, Karl. “Science: Problems, Aims, Responsibilities,” Proceedings, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, vol. 22, 1963.

Rana, Fazale, with Hugh Ross. Who was Adam? Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005.

Ross, Dr. Hugh. Creator and the Cosmos. Colorado Spring,CO: NavPress, 2001.

Smith, R. Scott. CSAP 626MD – Ethics, Summer Lecture: Overview of Metaphysical Categories, & Applications to Naturalism & Dualism. La Mirada,CA:BiolaUniversity, 2011.

Van Till, Howard J. Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Theology. Hillsdale,MI:HillsdaleCollege Press, 1993.

Wells, Jonathan. Icons of Evolution Science or Myth.Washington D.C: Regnery Publishing, 2000.

 

 


[1] Psalm 8:4, NIV.

[2] Stephen Jay Gould, Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History (New York: Norton, 1989), 291.

[3] Psalm 139:1-3, NIV.

[4] Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 138.

[5] Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth (Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books, 2005), 25.

[6] Henry M. Morris and John D. Morris, The Modern Trilogy Volume 1: Scripture & Creation: Computer Readable Version (Masters Books, 1996), 23.

[7] Ibid, 4.

[8] Ibid, 8.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Dr. Henry M. Morris and Dr. John D. Morris, The Modern Creation Trilogy Volume II: Science and Creation (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1996), 18-21.

[11] Ibid, 4.

[12] James Montgomery Boice, Genesis, an expositional commentary, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1982), 63-68.

[13] Genesis 1:1, NIV.

[14] Robert C. Newman and Herman J. Eckelmann Jr., Genesis One & The Origin of the Earth (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 88.

[15] Henry M. Morris and John D. Morris, The Modern Trilogy Volume 1: Scripture & Creation: Computer Readable Version (Masters Books, 1996), 47.

[16] Dr. Hugh Ross, Creator and the Cosmos (Colorado Spring,CO: NavPress, 2001), 100.

[17] Ibid, 101.

[18] Henry M. Morris and John D. Morris, The Modern Trilogy Volume 1: Scripture & Creation: Computer Readable Version (Masters Books, 1996), 47.

[19] Howard J. Van Till, Man and Creation: Perspectives on Science and Theology (Hillsdale, MI: Hillsdale College Press, 1993), 1.

[20] Ibid, 2.

[21] Ian G. Barbour, Religion in the Age of Science (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990).

[22] Genesis 1:26, NIV.

[23] Genesis 2:7, NIV.

[24] Matthew 22:37, NIV.

[25] The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, 21st Century ed., s.v. “heart”, s.v. “soul”,  s.v. “mind”.

[26] R. Scott Smith, CSAP 626MD – Ethics, Summer Lecture: Overview of Metaphysical Categories, & Applications to Naturalism & Dualism (La Mirada,CA:BiolaUniversity, 2011).

[27] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2001), 24-26.

[28] Romans 12:1-2, NIV.

[29] John 4:24, NIV.

[30] Romans 1:20, NIV.

[31] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 78.

[32] Genesis 1:28, NIV.

[33] Karl Popper, “Science: Problems, Aims, Responsibilities,” Proceedings, Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, vol. 22 (1963), 964.

[34] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 43.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 197.

[37] Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention (Grand Rapids,MI: BakerBooks, 2004), 327.

[38] Ibid, 22.

[39] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 50.

[40] Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention (Grand Rapids,MI: BakerBooks, 2004), 326.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid.

[43] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 171.

[44] Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention (Grand Rapids,MI: BakerBooks, 2004), 326.

[45] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 171.

[46] Ibid, 158.

[47] Ibid, 165.

[48] Ibid, 193.

[49] Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention (Grand Rapids,MI: BakerBooks, 2004), 48.

[50] Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution Science or Myth (Washington D.C: Regnery Publishing, 2000), 220.

[51] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 159.

[52] Ibid, 165.

[53] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 32, 85, 176.

[54] Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution Science or Myth (Washington D.C: Regnery Publishing, 2000), 212.

[55] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 94.

[56] Ibid, 84.

[57] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 73.

[58] Ibid, 62.

[59] Ibid, 65.

[60] Francis S. Collins, The Language of God (New York: Free Press, 2006), 139.

[61] Roger Lewin, Principles of Human Evolution: A Core Textbook (Malden, MA: Blackwell Science, 1998),  386-389.

[62] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 61.

[63] Ibid, 75.

[64] Stephen C. Meyer, Signature in the Cell DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design (New York: HarperOne, 2009), 464.

[65] Fazale Rana with Hugh Ross, Who was Adam? (Colorado Springs,CO: NavPress, 2005), 238.

[66] Casey Luskin, “DNA Trash Talk,” Salvo, Issue 18 Autumn 2011, 56.

[67] Ibid.

[68] Marvin L. Lubenow, Bones of Contention (Grand Rapids,MI: BakerBooks, 2004), 50.

[69] Tom Gilson, “Hunter-Gatherer Nut Cases,” Salvo, Issue 19 Winter 2011, 19.

[70] James M. Kushiner, “A Matter of Mind,” Salvo, Issue 19 Winter 2011, 4.

[71] Psalm 139:14, NIV.

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The Most Probable Cause for Christianity

Introduction

            In a lecture by Dr. Hugh Ross regarding the observed effects resulting from the creation of the universe, he cited two corollaries of causality law as evidence that there is a purpose responsible for the orderliness of the universe. An effect can never be greater than the cause and the created can never be greater than the creator.[1] The relevance of the axioms to his proposal was that the fine tuning of cosmological parameters for our existence infer an intelligent cause not a random accident. It is logical and intuitive to consider a great cause for the wonder of effects noted in nature. The significant influence of Christianity on culture is irrefutable. What is the most probable cause for its influence?

The thesis of my essay is that the phenomenal and sustained growth of Christianity is contingent on the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. I will support my essay with three proposals. Initially, I will provide evidence that affirm the positive growth effects of Christianity amongst cultural diversity and adversity. Secondly, I will utilize the Aristotelian concept of sufficiency and necessity to define the criteria for a rational explanation of the growth of Christianity.[2]  My final proposition will include historical evidence of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ to support the sufficient and necessary explanations for the growth of Christianity.

Christianity Thrives through the Ages

The proverbial betting man would not have taken odds that Christianity would have survived to the turn of the first century after the death of Jesus Christ. The movement was a controversial offshoot of a persecuted and politically troublesome Jewish religion. The supernatural revelation of the prophets had been silent for over 400 years prior to the time of Christianity. The last divine revelation to the Jews had occurred during the Persian empirethrough the prophet Malachi.[3] The land of Palestine, the home of the last vestiges of the Jewish faith, was fractured amongst many cultural tensions when Christianity was born.  Rome ruled politically but the region was quite Hellenized. Gentiles in the region were restless trying to find a religion compatible with Greek philosophy and were skeptical of Roman polytheism. Jewish religious leaders were split between a pursuit of political expediency and a pursuit of legitimacy to its ancient religion through the groups of the Sadducees and the Pharisees respectively. The Jewish people longed for a Messiah.[4]

The arrival of Jesus was the best of times and the worst of times. The people were hungry for a savior and an intellectually satisfying religion. Jesus died on a cross after disappointing the Jewish people looking for a messiah, refuting the Sadducees’ naturalistic agenda striving to maintain status quo with the Romans, and opposing the Pharisees’ legal system attempting to enforce their ancient religion.

Jesus’ death on the cross was the antithesis of victorious success. Crucifixion was the world’s most disgraceful exhibition for a failed life. Cicerocalled it “the most cruel and hideous of tortures.”[5] But Christianity did not die despite having to emerge from the least auspicious of cultures.

Judaea was an unimportant and remote province in the Roman Empire. Christianity not only faced obstacles from its root religion of Judaism, it also competed against the official cults of Romeand the sophisticated philosophies of the educated classes.[6] The table below highlights the triumphal progress of Christianity in theRoman Empire.

Date

Historical Event

30 C.E.

Crucifixion of Jesus

64 C.E..

Fire atRome– Blamed on Christians by Nero

70 – 100 C.E.

Gospels Written

250 – 260 C.E.

Major Persecutions by Decius and Valerian

303 C.E.

Persecution by Diocletian

311 C.E.

Galerius issues Edict of Toleration

312 C.E.

Conversion ofConstantineto Christianity

325 C.E.

Council ofNicaea

395 C.E.

Christianity becomes official religion ofRoman Empire

 

The Triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire[7]

 

After the decline of the Roman empire, the theology of Christian doctrine denoting an ordered cosmos ironically gave rise to a more subtle threat to the survival of Christianity. In medieval Europea mainstream of Christian philosophy developed by the name of Scholasticism. The philosophy was founded on a strong interest in logical and linguistic analysis for the purpose of a systematic Christian apologetic.[8] Scholasticism fueled the funding of medieval universities throughout Europe by the Roman Catholic church for over six centuries.[9]

The proliferation of universities meant that hundreds of thousands of students were exposed to the science of the Greco-Arabic tradition. Over 30 percent of the curriculum in these medieval universities were dedicated to the natural world.[10] Intellectual knowledge and capability gave rise to the Enlightenment which nourished the beginning of the naturalistic menace to Christianity that still exists today with increasing intensity. The irony of the naturalistic opposition to Christianity’s basic tenets is that it would not exist as a worldview without Christianity.

Naturalism is the religion of science. According to science writer Loren Eiseley, the most curious aspect of the scientific world is that it exists. Up until the advent of Christianity, archaeologists tell us “that great civilizations have arisen and vanished without the benefit of a scientific philosophy… it is an invented cultural institution … and not one that can be counted on to arise from human instinct.”[11] Many scholars and science historians recognize that Christianity provided both the intellectual presuppositions and moral sanction that are at the foundation of modern science.[12] But many scientists and beneficiaries of its fruit have been ungrateful and resentful of technology’s benefactor. Western civilization has transitioned from the Enlightenment through modernism to postmodernism and rebelled against the system which gave it truth and sustainability. Nonetheless Christianity is still stronger than ever.

Christianity is the most ethnically diverse and geographically distributed religion in the world today with over two thousand different language groups represented amongst its disciples.[13] The assumptions of the elite leaders of naturalism were that a global growth of intellectualism coupled with an opposition to western-culture colonialism would produce a third world that was modern and secular.  These predictions have failed to come to fruition.

South Koreahas five of the ten largest Christian churches in the world. Chinais closing in on 100 million Christians which is more than the membership of the communist party. The African Christian population has grown from 9 percent in year 2000 to 44 percent today.[14] The naturalistic elite failed to recognize that Christianity took hold in the cities of the Roman Empire amongst the dominant intellect of the day. It is a reasoned faith that defies superstition.  Christianity continues to thrive precisely in pluralistic urban areas.[15]

Christianity prospers as a reasonable faith with a well endowed intellectual basis. Therefore, its growth amongst the rising standard of global intellect and an antagonism towards the cultural traditions of superstition must have a cause that meets the standards of expectation required by a sophisticated world. Aristotle defined criteria for objectively good explanations for a cause and this leads to the second part of my thesis.[16]

Criteria for an Objectively Good Explanation of a Cause

            A valid explanation for why Christianity still exists and continues to flourish must be rationally adequate and answer these questions:

  • What motivated the early Christians to persevere despite tremendous cultural adversity?
  • Why has the Christian faith prospered in opposition to naturalism?

Aristotle insisted that a complete and adequate explanation must include four causes to be objectively good. As a logical axiom, “E is an adequate explanation if E correctly cites each of the four causes.” The necessity for these conditions becomes a logical conclusion as a result of the rigor of properly correlating and defining the four causal schema.[17] Given the evidence of Christianity’s tremendous growth since its dubious beginning, what are the four Aristotelian causes that satisfy the necessary and sufficient conditions of rational adequacy?

The apostle Paul defined followers of Christ as the body of Christ. “Now you [the Church] are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”[18] Paul defined Jesus Christ as “the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead.”[19] The “firstborn from among the dead” defines the resurrection from the dead as the evidence for Christ being the head of the Church. In Aristotelian form, the explanation of the cause of Christianity is as follows:

1. Material – That from which a thing comes

Jesus came to earth in bodily form. “The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”[20]

2. Formal – The shape which a thing becomes

Jesus was crucified and raised a resurrected body. “He was seen … by witnesses … by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”[21]

3. Efficient – The triggering by which change is brought about

Jesus was raised supernaturally by God. “God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen.”[22]

4. Final – The reason for a thing being

The resurrection was essential for the redemption of the world and eternal life for the body of Christ. “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.”[23]

The value of the four causal definition lies in its explanatory scope. For it is not satisfactory to just explain whether a miracle took place by Jesus’ resurrection. The four-causal schema enables a full purview of God’s plan for all of eternity and man’s relationship to it. I am not simply trying to define criteria for establishing a miracle but am trying to explain that the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is the essential component of all human reality. When the resurrection of Jesus is considered within the totality of God’s plan, the necessity and sufficiency of the event are significant in contrast to pluralistic worldviews.

            Non-believers of the Christian faith will dispute my efficient, formal, and final cause definitions. However, if the efficient and formal causes are convincing to a non-believer, then my final cause definition should follow as the most likely conclusion for the completion of the four-causal Aristotelian schema.

New Testament scholar N.T. Wright utilizes the tools of necessary and sufficient conditions to establish historical credibility for the resurrection of Jesus, the efficient and formal causes of my explanation of the growth of Christianity.  And to his method I turn to express my final thesis point.

Historical Evidence for the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

            The critical event for early Christian belief was that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead. It was the focal point of their praxis and the basis for their recognition of Jesus as the Messiah.[24] The apostle Paul put it bluntly. “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.”[25] There is scholarly consensus that the oldest extant creed of Christianity was composed within two to three years after Jesus death and it is quoted by Paul in the same Corinthian chapter in which he lays down the gauntlet of necessity for Jesus’ resurrection as the cornerstone of faith.[26]

“ For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all of the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”[27]

           

What evidence was compelling enough to warrant belief in this early creed by many eye witnesses of Jesus’ crucifixion? It was the emptiness of Jesus’ tomb and the meetings with the risen Jesus. Neither of these alone would be convincing but both together combine as a synergistic sufficient condition for the establishment of the belief.

The empty tomb has many vulnerabilities without the confirmation of meetings of the risen Jesus by eye witnesses. And the meetings would be easily refuted by a decaying body still in the tomb. Therefore, N.T. Wright is correct in asserting “it is therefore historically probable that Jesus’ tomb was indeed empty on the third day after his execution, and that the disciples did indeed encounter him giving every appearance of being well and truly alive.”[28] An example is illustrative of the meaning of sufficiency of explanation.

A plane in perfect mechanical condition does not guarantee a safe landing. It is an insufficient condition alone. However, if an experienced pilot is added to the mix, the two combine to produce a sufficient condition to expect a safe landing. Both are insufficient in themselves.[29]

Are the empty tomb and meetings a necessary condition to bring about the conclusion that Jesus’ bodily resurrection was the cause of the early church belief? Could some other sufficient conditions exist that could also make the empty tomb and meetings unnecessary? Are there alternative circumstances that demonstrate a sufficient condition for the belief of early followers of Christ which could rival the empty tomb and meetings?[30] The answer is no.

The early creedal belief of Christians required an empty tomb as evidence of a raised body. This is clearly stated in 1 Corinthians 15:4 “that he was buried … [and] that he was raised.” This fact is emphasized by an archaeological discovery on an inscription found in Nazarethduring the reign of Claudius forbidding the tampering of tombs. By “ordinance of Caesar… graves and tombs remain undisturbed in perpetuity … if any man … has in any other way extracted the buried … or displaced the sealing … the offender be sentenced to capital punishment.”[31] Since the Christian sect had caused such an irritating stir in Judaea, and the Romans refused to believe in the miracle of a bodily resurrection, the only natural explanation was that the body was stolen. Surely this could be remedied by an edict from Rome to squelch such trouble in the future. And this story was perpetuated by the Sanhedrin themselves according to the canonical gospels. “When the chief priests had met … they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, You are to say ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’”[32] But there is a flaw in the bribe unless Pilate was complicit in the conspiracy for he himself ordered the guard according to Matthew 27:65, “Take a guard … make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

The Roman guards assigned to the tomb were members of one of the greatest offensive and defensive fighting machines in history.[33] Anyone caught trying to steal the body of Jesus would have incurred the wrath of Roman law. Were the guards motivated to stay awake? According to an expert in Roman military discipline, leaving the night watch was an offense which required the death penalty. One method for military capital punishment was to strip the guard of his clothes and burn him alive with the fire fueled by his garments.[34] Suffice it to say that if the tomb had not been empty, the guard would never have left their positions in panic and gone to the high priest for help in pleading for their life.[35]

But the partnering component of the empty tomb’s sufficient condition combo was the meetings with Peter, the apostles, 500 men simultaneously, James, and the skeptic Paul. At the time of the early creed, it is likely that all of these witnesses were still alive.  The apostle Paul probably wrote 1 Corinthians in the fall of 51 A.D. and states in 1 Corinthians 15:6 that “most of whom are still living.”[36] If most were still alive almost 20 years after the event in question, there was an interdependent accountability of the eye witness testimony of the meetings. The popular hallucination theory for the meetings is very dubious.

The American Psychological Association defines a hallucination as “false sensory perception that has a compelling sense of reality despite the absence of external stimulus.”[37] Psychological studies reveal that 15% of the general population will experience a hallucination in their lifetime. Approximately 50% of this group are senior adults and only 14% of these will be visual. Let’s consider the group appearance to the apostles for a theoretical statistical calculation. All of these men were young and would thus have only a 7.5% chance of experiencing an hallucination by age.[38] Given that only 14% of hallucinations are visual, the chances per disciple are reduced to slightly more than 1%. Therefore a group hallucination experience among the disciples has a statistical probability of .0111 or 1 chance in 1.7 x 1022 (170 billion trillions). It statistically couldn’t happen according to the experts at the American Psychological Association.

Since hallucinations are not feasible to explain the appearances of Jesus’ resurrected body, the plausibility comes down to the personal integrity of the eye witnesses. If we consider the cultural influences of Christianity in science, its history of compassionate outreach, and its origination of formal education as a few representative samples, it seems incongruous that such an influential religion would be founded on such an ethical malfeasance.  But let’s consider the life testimonies of Paul, the apostles, and early Jesus followers as vested witnesses.

Dr. J.P. Moreland expresses the predicament of the apostles quite well in an interview with Lee Strobel. “When Jesus died his followers were discouraged and depressed. They no longer had confidence that Jesus had been sent from God… Then after a short period of time … they are willing to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming this [the resurrection], without any payoff from a human standpoint.”[39] And what did they get for proclaiming this news?

Peter and Paul’s martyrdoms were specifically described in Clement 5:2-7.  Clement eludes in this same passage to other horrible persecutions and martyrs amongst the rest of the disciples and early followers of Christ. There is an implication that they all suffered martyrdom[40] as examples to second, third, and fourth generation Christians, many of whom shared a similar martyrdom fate.[41] The case is extremely strong that most of the apostles and many of the eye witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection did not willfully lie and suffered greatly for holding to their belief. Liars make poor martyrs.[42]

The combined explanatory power of the empty tomb and the meetings with Jesus present a persuasive argument for sufficient conditions for the rise of the early Christian belief, but also a necessary one.[43] Nothing short of these two will do. The historical evidence is compelling that the sufficient and necessary conditions were supernaturally accomplished. Thus, the Aristotelian final cause of immortal provision through the resurrection of Jesus is a rational expectation for his followers.


Conclusion

            The thesis of my essay was that the growth of Christianity is contingent on the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. The foundation of my thesis established that Christianity has flourished in spite of culture adversity and has a significant influence on the world. I followed the foundational proposition with Aristotelian rigor for defining a comprehensive rational explanation for why the bodily resurrection of Jesus is the crux of the Christian faith. In this section of my thesis I defined a  four-causal explanation for Christianity and how the bodily resurrection of Jesus fits into reality. Since the bodily resurrection is the supernatural contingency upon which Christianity vests its credibility, I proposed evidence in my last argument that the empty tomb of Jesus and the meetings of his resurrected body is confirmed by eye witness testimony. The two evidences combine to fulfill sufficient and necessary conditions for a rational explanation of the robust viability of Christianity throughout history.


Bibliography

Carson, D.A., and Douglas J. Moo. An Introduction to the New Testament Second Edition. Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2005.

Hulbert, Terry C. Th.D. New Testament Survey: Gospels/Life of Christ.Grand Rapids,MI: Outreach Inc., 1998.

Kagan, Donald, Steven Ozment, and Frank Turner. The Western Heritage Volume I: To 1715. Upper Saddle River,NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998.

Licona, Michael. The Resurrection of Jesus A New Historiographical Approach. Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010.

McDowell, Josh. A Ready Defense. Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1993.

Numbers, Ronald. Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion. Cambridge,MA:HarvardUniversity Press, 2009.

Pearcey, Nancy. Saving Leonardo A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning. Nashville,TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010.

Pearcey, Nancy, and Charles B. Thaxton. The Soul of Science Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy. Wheaton,IL: Crossway Books, 1994.

Ross, Dr. Hugh. “Evidence for Biblical Creation”. Intelligent Design Lecture Series.BiolaUniversity,La Mirada, CA. June 30, 2011.

Sanneh, Lamin. Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel Beyond the West.Grand Rapids,MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2003.

Shields, Christopher John. Aristotle. Austin,TX: Taylor & Francis Routledge, 2007.

Soccio, Douglas. Archetypes of Wisdom An Introduction to Philosophy. Belmont,CA:Wadsworth Publishing, 1998.

Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ. Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 1998.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. Minneapolis,MN: Fortress Press, 2003.


[1] Dr. Hugh Ross, “Evidence for Biblical Creation”, Intelligent Design Lecture Series, Biola University, La Mirada, CA, June 30, 2011

[2] Christopher John Shields, Aristotle (Austin,TX: Taylor & Francis Routledge, 2007), 44.

[3] Terry C. Hulbert, Th.D., New Testament Survey: Gospels/Life of Christ(Grand Rapids,MI: Outreach Inc., 1998), 61.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1993), 221.

[6] Donald Kagan, Steven Ozment, and Frank Turner, The Western Heritage Volume I: To 1715 (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1998), 174.

[7] Ibid, 190.

[8] Douglas Soccio, Archetypes of Wisdom An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 258.

[9] Ronald Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion (Cambridge,MA:HarvardUniversity Press, 2009), 21

[10] Ronald Numbers, Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths About Science and Religion (Cambridge,MA:HarvardUniversity Press, 2009), 21.

[11] Nancy Pearcey and Charles B. Thaxton, The Soul of Science Christian Faith and Natural Philosophy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1994), 17.

[12] Ibid, 18.

[13] Lamin Sanneh, Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel Beyond the West (Grand Rapids,MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2003) 69.

[14] Nancy Pearcey, Saving Leonardo A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, and Meaning (Nashville,TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 18.

[15] Ibid, 21.

[16] Christopher John Shields, Aristotle (Austin,TX: Taylor & Francis Routledge, 2007) 41.

[17] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God(Minneapolis,MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 687.

[18] 1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV.

[19] Colossians 1:18, NIV.

[20] John 1:14, NIV.

[21] Acts 10:41, NIV.

[22] Acts 10:40, NIV.

[23] 1 Corinthians 15:20, NIV.

[24] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God(Minneapolis,MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 685.

[25] 1 Corinthians 15:14, NIV.

[26] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus A New Historiographical Approach(Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 234.

[27] 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV.

[28] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God(Minneapolis,MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 687.

[29] Ibid, 692.

[30] Ibid, 694.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Matthew 28:12-13, NIV.

[33] Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1993), 227.

[34] Ibid, 234.

[35] Ibid, 235.

[36] D.A. Carson and Douglas J. Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament Second Edition (Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2005), 448.

[37] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus A New Historiographical Approach(Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 483.

[38] Ibid, 484.

[39] Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998), 332-333.

[40] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus A New Historiographical Approach(Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 368.

[41] Josh McDowell, A Ready Defense (Nashville,TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1993), 437.

[42] Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus A New Historiographical Approach(Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 370.

[43] N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God(Minneapolis,MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 706.

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Salvation and Free Will

Introduction of Thesis

            I read J.I. Packer’s book, A Quest for Godliness and found the book to be compelling with regards to a pursuit of the spiritual characteristics of Puritanism. But I was taken back by several of Packer’s harsh attacks against Arminianism. An example follows.  “Arminianism … represents a characteristic perversion of biblical teaching by the fallen mind of man, who even in salvation cannot bear to renounce the delusion of being master of his fate and captain of his soul.”[1] I found his harsh tone insensitive as I agree with the basic tenets of Arminianism.

            The purpose of this essay is to support the Arminian view of conditional predestination as an evangelically conservative doctrine. Initially, I will establish that conditional predestination is the salient issue in contrast to the Calvinist free grace doctrine. Secondly, I will present a biblical exegesis of scripture in support of conditional predestination and conclude with a libertarian philosophical argument.

My three propositions intrinsically contend with several of the major counters used by Calvinists against free will doctrine. The exception to this is the sovereignty counter claim and I handle this prior to my conclusion.

Conditional v Unconditional Predestination

            Jacob Arminius studied theology at the Academy at Geneva, Switzerlandunder the tutelage of John Calvin’s successor and son-in-law, Theodore Beza. What emerged from Beza’s leadership at the Academy was a strong form of predestination known as supralapsarian from the Latin supra lap sum, “before the fall.” Supralapsarian taught that God decreed election and reprobation for every man before Adam sinned in the garden. It was the extrapolation of Calvin’s predestination and election to doctrinal extremes that caused Jacob Arminius to consider a place for free will in the doctrine of predestination. Arminian thought started as a reaction to hyper-Calvinism rather than a codified theology.[2]

            Arminius’ sympathizers carried their mentor’s writings to an extreme and proposed a revision to the Reformed Church catechism and creedal-uniting Belgic Confession of 1561.[3] Their proposal is summarized in five statements:

  1. God elects or reproves on the basis of foreseen faith or unbelief.
  2. Jesus Christ died for all but only believers are saved.
  3. The human race is depraved and divine grace is necessary for faith and good deeds. None can be saved without God’s grace.
  4. All good works are a result of grace but grace is not irresistible.
  5. It is possible for believers to fall away from faith.[4]

The well known TULIP acronym was a direct rebuttal to the five points proposed by Arminius’ followers at the Synod of Dort in 1618. The goal of the Synod of Dort was to resolve the dispute but it ended in a condemnation of the Arminian pioneers.[5] The TULIP frame work for Calvinism is:

T    – Total Depravity. All have inherited Adam’s Sin.

U   – Unconditional Election. Election is based on the sovereign will of God.

L    – Limited Atonement. The work on the cross is limited to the elect.

I     – Irresistible Grace. The elect will be saved apart from free will.

P    – Perseverance of the Saints. The elect will never be finally lost.[6]

What makes unconditional election, conditional, is the free will imparted to man. John Wesley succinctly established the boundary of the conflict. “Is predestination absolute or conditional? The Arminians believe, it is conditional, the Calvinists, that it is absolute.”[7] The rebuttal of the Calvinist to the five statements from Arminius’ followers at the Synod of Dort is summarized by Wesley.

“The errors charged upon these (Arminians) by their opponents, are five: (1.) That they deny original sin; (2.) That they deny justification by faith; (3.) That they deny absolute predestination; (4.) That they deny the grace of God to be irresistible; and, (5.) That they affirm, a believer may fall from grace.  With regard to the two first of these charges, they plead, Not Guilty. They are entirely false. No man that ever lived, not John Calvin himself, ever asserted either original sin, or justification by faith, in more strong, more clear and express terms, than Arminius has done. These two points, therefore, are to be set out of the question: In these both parties agree. Indeed, the two latter points, irresistible grace and infallible perseverance, are the natural consequence … of the unconditional decree. .. the three questions come into one. Is predestination absolute or conditional?”[8]

The whole argument hinges on whether one believes that predestination is contingent on man’s acceptance of grace or whether man is incapable of resisting grace. If predestination is absolute, than certainly grace is not irresistible and a believer cannot fall from it. Predestination in the context of the elect is defined as a doctrine of who God wills to save and those he wills to eternal damnation.  Therefore, an exegesis of predestination scripture is apropos.

Exegesis of Predestination Scripture

            Forms of “predestined” occur in the New Testament four times. All four occurrences are translated from the same Greek word – proorizo.  This Greek verb includes meanings such as decided beforehand, determined before, and ordained.[9]

“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.”

Romans 8:29-30[10]

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Christ Jesus, in accordance with his pleasure and will.”                                          Ephesians 1:4-5[11]

“In him we were chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”

Ephesians 1:11[12]

            The apostle Paul did not elucidate a systematic doctrine of predestination in his new testament epistles. His greatest concern was not God’s plan for each individual soul but an explanation for God’s overall plan.[13] The scriptures noted above indicate that God had a foreknowledge before the creation of man of those who would accept the atonement provided by Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sin. The word “foreknew” in Romans 8:29 is translated from the Greek word – proginosko. This verb has the meanings to know beforehand or to choose beforehand.[14] Prognosis shares this same Greek root used in the medical vernacular. To “prognosticate” is to “tell what the course and likely outcome of a disease will be.”[15] Prognosis is synonymous with predestination. God foreknew what the conditions of a man’s heart would be during his earthly existence and had a spiritual prognosis.

            Foreknowledge of a person’s condition is a plausible interpretation using the “to know beforehand” meaning of predestination. What conditions must exist within a person for God to render a prognosis of salvation? Several salvation verses are descriptive.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”      John 3:16-17[16]

             “Believes” is translated from the Greek verb – pisteuo. Definitions include to put one’s faith in, trust with an implication that actions based on that trust will follow, and committed to trust.[17] A common understanding of trust implies a willingness to commit based on some evidence. Irresistible grace eliminates the need for a will to trust.

            “World” is translated from the Greek word – kosmos. Definitions for this world include world system, whole universe, the place where people live, and the system opposed to God. Missing from these definitions is a context which supports the doctrine of limited atonement. God gave himself for whoever believes in him. An intuitive interpretation of the two conditions for those who can be saved by Christ’s atonement are, “whoever believes” and “in the world”.  These two conditions preclude the Gnostic-like exclusiveness for a predestined elect covered by a limited atonement.

            A consistent faith hermeneutic is crucial to understanding how to interpret the context of God’s foreknowledge role in predestination of the elect. Two well known passages provide insight on the matter of faith.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9 [18]

 “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”    Hebrews 11:6[19]

            The word “faith” is translated from the Greek noun, pistis, in all of the references from above. Among its definitions are faithfulness, belief, trust with an implication that actions based on that trust may follow.[20] Inclusive in the faith passages are the expressed openness of salvation with the word “anyone.” The verb “believe” and adverb-verb “earnestly seek” infer a will to necessitate God’s pleasure and salvation.

Another key word in Ephesians 2:9 is “works.” This is a translation from the Greek noun, ergon, which carries the meanings of deed, activity, task, labor, and doing.[21] Calvinist deny free will for salvation based on a generous definition of “works.” An argument of Reductio ad absurdum could carry this bounteous definition of work to be inclusive of mere living.

An interpretation of Ephesians 2:8-9 should not consider faith and works to be mutually exclusive. Martin Luther is well known for his courageous defense of grace yet he balanced his doctrine with a reasonable allowance for human effort in the process of salvation.

“The will is not powerless though it cannot attain its end without grace.”[22] Luther acknowledges the puniness of man’s efforts and the whole of justification he virtually ascribes to God. He provides allegories to describe his theology.

“The peasant who brings a rich harvest from the fields into his barn does not say: ‘I have got a fine harvest this year for myself’ but ‘God bestowed it.’ And yet who would say that the farmer did nothing to provide the harvest? … since human labor does nothing except when divine favor is also present, the whole is ascribed to divine beneficence. ‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.’ <Psalm 127:1>”[23]

Support of one’s exegesis should also be investigated from God’s other book which Thomas Aquinas referred to as Natural Theology. In Natural Theology a God endowed natural reason for all of man should be applied.[24] And to this book, I now turn to sustain philosophical support for conditional predestination.

Philosophical Support for Conditional Predestination

            The logic for Conditional Predestination is summarized in the following syllogism:

  1. Free will is required for faith that pleases God. (Hebrews 11:6)
  2. Faith is required for salvation. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
  3. Predestination of the elect is God’s foreknowledge of those who will be saved. (Romans 8:28-30)
  4. Therefore God elects and has predestined those who he knew would use their free will to accept the atonement of Jesus Christ for justification.

I have appealed to intuition for interpretations of scripture in this essay. It can be argued that this is a slippery slope when applied to biblical exegesis. But self-evident concepts and human experience are important, and unless one is a devout naturalist and denies the ontology of thought and the soul, these human attributes should be considered in reasoning of a coherent Christian worldview.[25] This thesis is argued to a Christian audience and denial of the ontological dualism of the person is assumed to be a non-issue.

Some Calvinists have recommended Augustine as an ally. “Augustine pointed men to God as the source of all true spiritual wisdom and strength, while Pelagius threw men back on themselves and said that they were able in their own strength to do all that God commanded, otherwise God would not command it. We believe that Arminianism represents a compromise between these two systems… it nevertheless does contain serious elements of error.”[26] However, a careful review of Augustine’s later theology infers support for the role of free will in salvation. Augustine elaborated on the duality of man and distinguished between knowledge and wisdom in his philosophy of imago dei as it relates to the fall of man. Calvinist depravity claims that persons are without any ability to pursue justification with God. Augustine does not agree.

“The division of the human mind is one of function only… we shall have to seek the true image of God in the higher [division of human mind] rather than the lower… The Fall of man is the result of the ‘lower reason’ throwing off the control of the ‘higher’ and devoting itself to the pursuit of the material … Man seeks to be his own master.”[27]

            It is crucial to understand in Augustine’s philosophy that man’s higher reasoning function is not eradicated by the fall but distorted. According to Augustine, “knowledge is concerned with moral activity” and human history provides evidence that this knowledge is alive and well after the fall. Romans 1:19-20 reinforces this “…because God has made it plain to them…his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”[28]  Augustine insightfully recognizes the classical philosophy of Plato to depict the relationship between the lower and higher levels of reasoning.[29]

            Plato’s metaphysics included the dichotomy of the higher and lower realms of  reality. The higher realm included the ideal forms along with wisdom. The lower realm included knowledge and was where man was destined to dwell since there is an insurmountable chasm from the lower to the higher realm. Plato’s allegory of the cave demonstrates his philosophical concept of Recollection.[30]  Recollection relates to Augustine’s explanation of man’s distorted higher reasoning. Plato saw “humans as coming prepackaged [imago dei] with at least the idea of the good.”[31] Augustine realized the need for Christ in bridging the platonic chasm between God’s ideal form for man and man’s fuzzy contemplation and desire of goodness. Man’s recollection was vague but it was innately there. Grace provides a means for man to accept Christ and clarify the good by bridging the chasm.

            Thus far we have dealt with the philosophical support for free will in salvation. But what about the temporal dilemma amongst the concepts of foreknowledge, predestination, and free will? To that question we now turn.

            Free will is contrasted with determinism which is the view “that for every event that happens, there are such conditions that … nothing else could happen.”[32] Spiritual determinism is relevant to the predestination debate. 

            Calvinist assert that “the unsaved person wants or wills to do the evil of his father, Satan. These verses [Eph 2:1-2] do not describe the freedom of the will; they describe the bondage of the will and its desire to do evil.”[33] The parable below contrasts the free-will to Calvinist explanation of salvation.

“A man falls off a boat and starts to drown. Someone from the boat throws him a life preserver. However, the man must grab hold of the preserver to save himself from drowning…Salvation becomes a two step process …if God does His part and man does his part, then God gives the man salvation.”[34]

The two step process of salvation noted in the parable is representative of Arminianism. The Calvinist version of the story is as follows.

“The correct biblical picture is that the man has already drowned and lies at the bottom of the ocean floor dead. The Holy Spirit jumps into the water, swims to the bottom of the ocean floor, picks him up, and swims with him back to the shore where the deceased man is laid down on the sand. Then the Holy Spirit breathes the breath of life into the dead man, and he is raised to life.”[35]

            Philosophical nomenclature within the discussion of free will categorizes freedom amongst determinism, compatibilism, and libertarianism. Hard determinist deny free will and libertarians deny determinism in exchange for total human freedom. Determinist and libertarians generally agree on the same definition of free will but compatibilists create a semantical freedom which is more complex and antithetical to a lay understanding of free will.[36] Arminians do not need to construct an esoteric philosophical system to make free will compatible with their soteriology. 

            Five conditions are necessarily defined for an adequate theory of freedom and these are consistent with the free will imperative of Arminian soteriology.[37]

  1. Ability Condition – a person has the ability to choose or act differently from the way one does.[38]
  2. Control Condition – a person is a first cause.[39]
  3. Rationality Condition – a person is accountable for their beliefs and actions.[40]
  4. Causation – a person is an agent causation. Their free acts are uncaused events they do by exercising their powers for the sake of reasons.[41]
  5. Personal Substance –a person is a genuine substance in the Thomist philosophical sense.[42] Persons have a particular essence and the body is in deep unity with the soul.[43]

The Personal Substance condition is of particular note to evangelicals. Naturalism typically denies free will since human beings are considered properties. As a bundle of materials without a soul, there is no unique qualities of human beings to establish a unique essence.[44] While Calvinist decry the inevitable decline of Arminianism towards liberalism to universalism to Unitarianism, their version of spiritual determinism shares a basic tenet of atheistic naturalism.[45] Human beings are properties not substances. Free will is consistent with the basic philosophical ontology of man as a substance in the Thomist tradition in that man is knowable apart from its matter. This doctrine is essential in understanding the immortality of the soul.[46]

The temporal aspect of conditional predestination is quite abstract. The Christian concept of God positions Him as transcendent to the universe. Transcendency denotes independence from our spatial-temporal universe. God is not limited by time and able to observe all of human history as a composite finished work. Isaac Newton described this wonder in his Discourse Concerning God at the end of Principia. “He [God] is eternal and infinite … He is not duration and space… since every indivisible moment is everywhere, certainly the Maker and Lord of all things cannot be never and nowhere.[47] Two other philosophical explanations shed light on the temporal aspect of predestination.

Libertarians see foreknowledge of future free will events as a logical absurdity like the questions, “Can God create a rock that is too heavy for him to lift? Can God make a square circle?” If future events have not yet occurred, then there is nothing for God to know.[48] This is tantamount to a logical absurdity where an omnipotent God creates free moral agents incapable of deciding to love Him.

An omnipotent God may not be able to create any possible world within the compatibility constraints of free moral agents. Alvin Plantinga’s free will defense poses this dilemma.  His theory also provides an explanation for evil in the world as consequences of uncoerced free will choices.[49]

Another possibility of God’s foreknowledge utilizes a notion called middle knowledge. God’s omniscient-knowledge allows Him to know every possible choice a free moral agent would make in every circumstance. Thus God’s middle knowledge is not deterministic and a person’s free will can be independently exercised towards their spiritual destiny.[50]

I find the concept of middle knowledge to be understandable and intellectually appealing as a person experienced in computer programming. Structured programming requires a modular approach to building functions.[51] A functional module must have one entry and exit to conform to structured design discipline. However, a program must adapt to variable inputs to be practical. Conditional algorithms within the function exist to direct the program flow to perform a practical function based on independent variables. This is substantially the principle of middle knowledge theory. God predestines the design of a person’s existence as a integral-monolithic substance but permits free will with conditional responses. God knows the conditional possibilities and has allowed for it in His plan for each individual.

The biblical exegetical and philosophical arguments I have articulated contend with human depravity and irresistibility of grace intrinsically.  Before I summarize my essay I will offer a defense against the counter Calvinist accusation that Arminianism diminishes the sovereignty of God.

Is God’s Sovereignty Diminished by the Doctrine of Arminianism?

            “I suppose there are some persons whose minds naturally incline towards the doctrine of free-will. I can only say that mine inclines as naturally towards the doctrines of sovereign grace … I believe the doctrine of election… and I am sure He chose me before I was born, or else He never would have chosen me afterwards.”[52] These words express Charles Spurgeon’s conviction that free will and election are not compatible. The primary reason for this incompatibility is that the exercise of free will for salvation degrades the sovereignty of God in the minds of Calvinists.

            Calvinism proclaims that God created the world, He owns it, He is running it according to His good pleasure, and He is dishonored when it is supposed that he struggles with the human race to persuade them to do right.[53] But isn’t the greatness of God’s sovereignty enhanced when His will is accomplished inclusive of free will?  Isn’t God’s sovereignty and His purpose for the creation of the universe to share in a love relationship with man unfettered by coercion?

            God is sovereign and He is pleased when free moral agents seek Him and love Him. An authentic love requires libertarian will.[54] The greatest commandments  according to Jesus are “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all of your mind… Love your neighbor as yourself.”[55] These commands are meaningless if man lacks the libertarian power to obey them. If God demands it then man can do it.[56] Free will and Arminian soteriology do not diminish the sovereignty of God but enhance it with an ever increasing awe from the recipients of  His amazing grace!

Conclusion

            I have presented arguments for conditional predestination as an evangelically conservative Christian doctrine. My initial proposition establishes that there is one significant difference between the Calvinist and Arminian debate. This difference is conditional versus unconditional predestination. The remaining issues are secondary. Subsequent to establishing the primacy of conditional predestination as the salient principle, I supported conditional predestination with biblical exegesis and philosophical evidence for plausibility.

            Calvinist doctrines of depravity, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance are intrinsically addressed in my exegetical and philosophical propositions. I closed my conditional predestination content by addressing a potential vulnerability of my thesis argument. The vulnerability relates to the indictment of diminished sovereignty by Calvinists of free will soteriology. The essence of my counter was that free will enhances the quality of God’s sovereignty rather than depreciate it.  But what is the significance of the thesis issue?

            I believe that Calvinism has three liabilities that are assets of conditional predestination.

  1. Incentive to maintain humility before God and man

Unconditional election can promote a superiority complex and condescending attitude towards others.

  1. Incentive for true perseverance of Godliness

The perseverance of a saint can be compromised. If one believes he is a member of the unconditionally elect, they may tend to digress towards status quo rather than holiness.

  1. Incentive for evangelism

Limited atonement has the potential to limit evangelistic fervor and propagation of the Great Commission.

            Martin Luther, from which Calvinist and Arminians both receive doctrinal heritage, expressed a humbling recommendation for those who seek theological truth. “For there are some secret places in the Holy Scriptures into which God has not wished us to penetrate more deeply and, if we try to do so, then the deeper we go, the darker and darker it becomes, by which means we are lead to acknowledge the unsearchable majesty of divine wisdom, and the weakness of the human mind.”[57] Great minds of high spiritual integrity have argued a continuum of positions on what I have argued in my thesis. God can receive glory and advance His kingdom on earth through the study provoked by the issue of predestination. It must be that he wanted it to be so and this is a mystery which I humbly acknowledge.

Bibliography

 

Augustine, and John Burnaby. Augustine: Later Works. Philadelphia,PA:Westminster Press, 1955.

Bartlett, David. Romans.Louisville,KY:Westminster John Knox Press, 1995.

Berry, John Thomas. Advanced C Programming. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1986.

Boettner,Lorraine. “Reformed Faith: The Sovereignty of God.” Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics. http://www.reformed.org/calvinism/index.html (accessed November 25, 2011)

Craig, William Lane, and J.P. Moreland. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Empson, Lila. Dictionary of Biblical Literacy.Nashville,TN: Oliver Nelson Books, 1989.

Finnis, John. Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory. Oxford:OxfordUniversity Press, 1998.

Global Ministries of the UnitedMethodistChurch. “What is an Arminian? Answered by a Lover of Free Grace – John Wesley.” The Thomas Jackson Edition of The Works of John Wesley, 1872. http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/arminian/ (accessed Nov. 11, 2011)

Kohlenberger, John R., James A. Swanson, and Dr. James Strong. The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.  Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2001.

Luther, Martin. Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation. Philadelphia,PA:Westminster Press, 1969.

Maxwell, John.  A Discourse Concerning God  to which is subjoined a translation of Isaac Newton’s general scholium at the end of the second edition of Principia. London: printed forW. Taylor and J. Senex at the Globe in Salisbury-Court, 1715.

McInerney, Ralph M. St. Thomas Aquinas. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1982.

Norwood, Fredrick. “Arminianism.” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. http://mb-soft.com/believe/txc/arminan.htm (accessed Nov. 28, 2011)

Packer, J. I.  A Quest for Godliness.Wheaton,IL: Crossway, 1990.

Plantinga, Alvin. Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief  in God. Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1983.

Reynolds, John Mark. When Athens Met Jerusalem. Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009.

Rooney, James P. Grace or Free Will? God’s Free Salvation Plan. http://www.reformed.org: 2011.

Smith, R Scott. Ethics and the Search for Moral Knowledge. La Mirada, CA: Biola University, 2005.

Soccio, Douglas J. Archetypes of Wisdom an introduction to philosophy Third Edition. Belmont,CA:Wadsworth Publishing, 1998.

Spurgeon, Charles.  “In Defense of Calvinism”. The Spurgeon Archive.  http://www.spurgeon.org (accessed November 11, 2011)

Steiner, Shirley Soltesz, R.N., M.S. Quick Medical Terminology: A Self-Teaching Guide 4th Edition. Hoboken,NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003.

Williams. Thaddeus J. Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will? New York: Editions Rodopi, 2011.


[1] J.I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 133.

[2] Frederick Norwood, “Arminianism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, http://mb-soft.com/believe/txc/arminan.htm.(accessed November 28, 2011).

[3] Dictionary of Biblical Literacy, s.v. “Reformed.”

[4] Dictionary of Biblical Literacy, s.v. “Arminianism.”

[5]  Frederick Norwood, “Arminianism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, http://mb-soft.com/believe/txc/arminan.htm.(accessed November 28, 2011)

[6] Dictionary of Biblical Literacy, s.v. “Calvinism.”

[7] The Thomas Jackson edition of The Works of John Wesley, 1872. “What is an Arminian? Answered by a Lover of Free Grace – John Wesley”, Global Ministries of theUnitedMethodistChurch, http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/arminian/ (accessed Nov. 11, 2011)

[8] The Thomas Jackson edition of The Works of John Wesley, 1872. “What is an Arminian? Answered by a Lover of Free Grace – John Wesley”, Global Ministries of theUnitedMethodistChurch, http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/arminian/ (accessed Nov. 11, 2011)

[9] The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, s.v. “Predestinate”, “Predestinated”, “Predestined”.

[10] Romans 8:28-30 NIV.

[11] Ephesians 1:4-5 NIV.

[12] Ephesians 1:11 NIV.

[13] David Bartlett, Romans (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995), 83.

[14] The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, s.v. “foreknew”

[15] Shirley Soltesz Steiner, R.N., M.S., Quick Medical Terminology: A Self-Teaching Guide 4th Edition (Hoboken,NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2003), 157.

[16] John 3:16-17 NIV.

[17] The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, s.v. “believes”

[18] Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV.

[19] Hebrews 11:6 NIV.

[20] The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, s.v. “faith”.

[21] The Strongest Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, s.v. “work”.

[22] Martin Luther, Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1969), 79.

[23] Ibid.

[24]  Douglas J. Soccio,  Archetypes of Wisdom an introduction to philosophy Third Edition  (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 261.

[25] John Finnis, Aquinas: Moral, Political, and Legal Theory (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 88.

[26] Lorraine Boettner, “Reformed Faith: The Sovereignty of God”, Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, http://www.reformed.org/calvinism/index.html (accessed Nov. 25, 2011)

[27] Augustine, John Burnaby, Augustine: Later Works (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1955), 93.

[28] Romans 1:19-20 NIV.

[29] Augustine, John Burnaby, Augustine: Later Works (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1955), 94.

[30] Douglas J. Soccio,  Archetypes of Wisdom an introduction to philosophy Third Edition  (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 135.

[31] John Mark Reynolds, When Athens Met Jerusalem (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009) 77.

[32] William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003) 268.

[33] James P. Rooney, Free Grace or Free Will? God’s Free Salvation Plan  (www.reformed.org: 2011), 19.

[34] Ibid, 20.

[35] Ibid.

[36] William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003) 268 – 269.

[37] Ibid, 271.

[38] Ibid, 271.

[39] Ibid, 274.

[40] Ibid, 276-277.

[41] Ibid, 278.

[42] Ibid, 280.

[43] Ralph M. McInerney,  St. Thomas Aquinas (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1982), 45

[44] R Scott Smith, Ethics and the Search for Moral Knowledge (La Mirada,CA:BiolaUniversity, 2005), 124.

[45] Lorraine Boettner, “Reformed Faith: The Sovereignty of God”, Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, http://www.reformed.org/calvinism/index.html (accessed nov. 25, 2011)

[46] Ralph M. McInerney,  St. Thomas Aquinas (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1982), 45.

[47] John Maxwell, A Discourse Concerning God  to which is subjoined a translation of Isaac Newton’s general scholium at the end of the second edition of Principia (London: printed for W. Taylor and J. Senex at the Globe in Salisbury-Court, 1715), 101.

[48] William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 282.

[49] Alvin Plantinga, Faith and Rationality: Reason and Belief in God (Notre Dame: Notre Dame Press, 1983), 196.

[50] William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 282.

[51] John Thomas Berry, Advanced C Programming (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1986), 14.

[52] Charles Spurgeon, “In Defense of Calvinism”, The Spurgeon Archive,  http://www.spurgeon.org (accessed November 11, 2011)

[53] Lorraine Boettner, “Reformed Faith: The Sovereignty of God”, Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics, http://www.reformed.org/calvinism/index.html (accessed Nov. 25, 2011)

[54] Thaddeus J. Williams, Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will? (New York: Editions Rodopi, 2011), 67.

[55] Matthew 22:37-38 NIV.

[56] Thaddeus J. Williams, Love, Freedom, and Evil: Does Authentic Love Require Free Will? (New York: Editions Rodopi, 2011), 67.

[57] Martin Luther, Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation (Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1969), 38.

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The Jesus Seminar

Introduction

            The Jesus Seminar was formed in 1985 by professors Robert Funk and John Dominic Crossan.[1] The cofounders recruited academic theologians from a diversity of backgrounds inclusive of Protestants, Catholics, Jewish, and non Judeo-Christian.[2] The stated academic purpose of the group was to “assess the degree of scholarly consensus about the historical authenticity of each of the sayings of Jesus.”[3] Robert Funk further clarified the agenda of the seminar in an interview with the Los Angeles times as one of liberation that separates the mythic Jesus from the cultic figure worshipped by mainstream Christianity.[4] Does a scholarly consensus import an unbiased perspective which liberates? And from what bondage does it liberate? A virtuous liberation is one which emancipates the ignorant from the bondage of fallacy and advances truth. If there is a truth to know and advance, then worldview should be set aside and proper techniques of historiography should be paramount in the investigation.

This essay proposes that The Jesus Seminar’s brand of biblical criticism for objective analysis of the true historical Jesus is founded on a worldview consistent with the naturalistic philosophy of David Hume.  Initially, the essay shall compare the assumptions made by The Jesus Seminar to the skepticism of David Hume. Secondly, the essay shall prove that the rules of evidence defined by the group were aligned with the skepticism and empiricism espoused by Hume. And lastly, the essay shall establish that the conclusions of The Jesus Seminar are consistent with the adversarial nature of Hume’s philosophy towards theology. After establishing these three points of consistency between The Jesus Seminar and David Hume’s philosophy, the essay shall take on Hume’s philosophy with counter arguments against his skepticism, empiricism, and critique of Christian theology. Since the Jesus Seminar has a foundation of principles steeped in Hume’s philosophy, it is vulnerable to the well-honed arguments against it.

Assumptions of The Jesus Seminar

Assumptions generally create the box from which an investigation’s discoveries are retrieved. The more closed the box, the more limited the scope of inquiry and potential for enlightenment. Albert Einstein, a man renowned for radical innovations in discovering new truths about the universe, warned that “it is the theory [assumptions] which decides what we observe.”[5] The assumptions of The Jesus Seminar were set within a framework of philosophical skepticism. David Hume articulated the skeptic’s assumptions about the supernatural in his book, The Treatise of Human Nature. In this work, Hume denied the possibility of the spiritual, supernatural reality, and personal immortality.  Hume also proposed a compelling argument against the possibility of miracles and demeaned man to a creature enslaved to passions from which reason was subservient.[6]

Given the importance of assumptions from which an investigation is launched it is quite ironic that The Jesus Seminar would restrict their “liberating” work of the traditional supernatural Jesus within a skeptical framework. The most blatant skeptical assumptions were:

  • The Christian scriptures were not uniquely inspired by God but by men who promoted their own beliefs and traditions.[7]
  • The Gospels are narratives in which the memory of Jesus is embellished by mythic elements and fictions which enhance the actual stories.[8]
  • Most of the miracles described in the Gospels did not actually occur. Miracles denied veracity were the virgin birth, the feeding of the thousands, the transfiguration, and Jesus resurrection.[9]

The assumptions seem more like conclusions but if one sees through the lens of Hume-like skepticism, these assumptions are considered the reality of the world in which we live. The wild hare of the Seminar’s assumptions lies in its acceptance of the Gospel of Thomas as valid for study. This gospel is one of numerous gospels which was not considered canon and is listed among the Nag Hammadi Egyptian collection of Gnostic writings. The opening line of this Gnostic gospel reads “these are the words of the secret sayings which the living Jesus spoke.”[10]

David Hume would not have considered the Thomas gospel as a worthy source of knowledge with its purported secret revelations and focus on immortality. According to Hume’s Empirical Criterion of Meaning, Gnosticism would be considered meaningless utterances. This criterion emphasizes that meaningful ideas are those which can be traced to sense experiences and beliefs are not ideas.[11] This inconsistency in source material among the Seminar’s assumptions hints at an agenda which seeks to tear down the Jesus of the canonized Gospels. The gospel of Thomas ignores God acting in history to redeem the world and is only considered an important historical source as an early perversion of Christianity by those wanting to create Jesus in their own image.[12]

But The Jesus Seminar scholars were notoriously ignorant of the Semitic background of the New Testament.  While all of the scholars could read the New Testament in Greek, they were known for dismissing Hebrew, Syriac, Aramaic, and the Dead Sea Scrolls. These sources would have stimulated within them a foundational understanding of Jesus’ Kingdomof Godemphasis in the canonical gospels. Instead, the seminar interpreted the Kingdomof Godfrom a Greek philosophical concept which harmonized more closely with the Gnostic concepts of the Thomas Gospel.[13] From a set of supernaturally skeptical assumptions and a discordant inclusion of perverted early Christian literature, The Jesus Seminar established rules of evidence that governed the academic scholars’ research.

The Procedures of the Jesus Seminar

 

Procedures are defined from assumptions and so the procedures of The Jesus Seminar reverberate a naturalistic philosophy founded on skepticism. The procedures are defined as the rules of evidence. This terminology is misleading. Amongst the rules adopted by the seminar which buttress the claims of this essay about naturalistic bias are:

  • Authors of the Gospels frequently embellish sayings and parables with an interpretative overlay.[14]
  • Jesus’ prophecies were created after Jesus death.[15]
  • Jesus’ sayings and parables were intended to shock and surprise by using exaggeration, humor, and paradox.[16]

Common themes of these rules of evidential interpretation are the anti-miracle and anti-theological positions of David Hume. He found metaphysical ideas irrelevant to ordinary life and termed them “abstruse speculation.” According to Hume, abstruse speculations were used by theologians to defend their weaknesses. Theology took people on pointless excursions and the only way to seriously discover knowledge was to inquire about the nature of human understanding.[17] The divine Jesus of evangelical Christianity came to earth to proclaim transcendent and metaphysical reality. Since The Jesus Seminar sought to undermine this tradition it is no wonder they ruled that all of Jesus’ sayings, prophecies, and miracles concerning transcendent topics were either fallaciously invented or gross exaggerations of natural phenomena. Hume empiricism and modern science claims to demonstrate that supernatural phenomena do not exist and The Jesus Seminar’s paradigm of evidentiary acceptance and interpretation shared this philosophical naturalism.

A crushing criticism of The Jesus Seminar from the perspective of historiography is the closed nature of the rules of evidence. To exclude the possibility of miracles prior to investigating the historical evidence begs the question. The supernatural aspects of Jesus as recorded in the canonical gospels need to be investigated and subjected to the historical evidence. The evidence must speak.  Catholic New Testament scholar Raymond Brown advised that “historicity … should be determined not by what we think possible or likely, but by the antiquity and reliability of the evidence…. As far back as we can trace, Jesus was known and remembered as one who had extraordinary powers.”[18]

Considering the assumptions and procedures defined by The Jesus Seminar, the conclusions were all but predetermined prior to any research by the scholars. With the boundaries set forth by these operating constraints one hardly need be a scholar to arrive at a conclusion of the Gospel sayings and events of Jesus life to the seminar’s satisfaction.

The Conclusions of the Jesus Seminar

 

            Co-Founder Robert Funk warned fellows of the Seminar “we will be asking questions that borders the sacred, that even abuts blasphemy … the course we shall follow may prove hazardous … [and] provoke hostility.”[19] And in prophetic fashion, the group delivered on Funk’s warning as evidenced in these conclusions consistent with strict naturalistic philosophy:

  • The Jesus “I am” statements in the gospel of John were not from Jesus[20]
  • The gospel of Thomas contains 65 sayings worthy of evidence that are independent of the canonical gospels.[21]
  • Jesus did not believe his execution was necessary for redemption.
  • About 18% of sayings attributed to Jesus in the canonical Gospels and Thomas were definitely or probably valid. The remaining sayings are attributed to the gospel author.[22]

The first conclusion is the strongest and most damaging indictment of The Jesus Seminar’s naturalistic philosophical bias. All of Jesus claims of divinity are denied. Jesus was not God and man. He was just a man. Although this scholarly verdict provokes hostility from conservative evangelicals, it should hardly be shocking considering the assumptions and procedures described previously in this essay.

The Jesus Seminar changed Jesus from a savior to a sage. He was turned into a wise teacher and a “pious spinner of tales and proverbs.”[23] According to Scot McKnight, Professor of New Testament at Trinity Evangelical School, the wise sage transformation of Jesus is as old as skepticism itself.[24] The sage reconstruction of Jesus is nothing new and C.S Lewis confronted this notion in his classic book Mere Christianity.

The naturalization of Jesus from divine God to great teacher is an oxymoron. According to Lewis’ famous argument against this skeptical view of Jesus “a man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic … or … the Devil of Hell. You must make a choice.”[25] Considering this established controversy about Jesus, you must commend The Jesus Seminar for logical consistency. You cannot accept Jesus statements about his divinity and still acknowledge him as a great sage. They clearly admit the reality of a historical Jesus but deny the very thing that made him the climax of human history. The irony is that if Jesus did not make the claims of being God, there would be no controversy over him in the modern times in which we live.

The primary conclusion by The Jesus Seminar that denied Jesus’ divinity struck out Johannine statements from which the divine nature of Jesus was more developed than the synoptic gospels. For consistency to the skeptical worldview bold statements from Jesus like “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him” must be denied as valid. [26] The Jesus Seminar did not wholly agree to any of the statements in the gospel of John as being attributed to Jesus.[27]

The final edit of the sayings of Jesus to only include 18% of the canonical and Thomas gospels is a testimony to his real mission, the redemption of man. And that was another revealing conclusion from the seminar. From a naturalistic paradigm, there is no need for redemption since there is no basis for morality.  In Hume’s book, The Treatise of Human Nature, he defined his fact-value distinctions and sought a reformation of moral philosophy. Hume declared that it was time to “reject every system of ethics, however subtle or ingenious, which is not founded on fact and observation.”[28]

Counter to Hume’s Skepticism

The problem of criterion is related to the quest for criteria for knowledge. The skeptic’s solution is that there is no knowledge. Therefore, the skeptic is vulnerable to the logic against circular reasoning which advises that if one cannot know things than one cannot know that they can reasonably doubt anything, like miracles and the supernatural.[29] Taken to the extreme, which Hume’s skepticism does, the repeatable natural laws postulated from cause and effect are not convincing as knowledge.

Science theorizes inferences from causal patterns. This is foundational. The predictability of causal patterns determines the necessary outcomes and is the basis for scientific knowledge. Hume, in typical paradoxical form, demonstrated on strictly empirical grounds that the foundation of sciences is nothing more than the product of the human mind.[30] In his book, Treatise of Human Nature he elaborates on this notion. “We can never discover anything but one event following another without being able to comprehend any force or power by which the cause operates, or any connection between it and its supposed effect.”[31] According to Hume, the quest for knowledge about the real Jesus is a project of futility. Therefore, The Jesus Seminar’s conclusions are simply a polemic on a naturalistic worldview and not liberating knowledge.

Conclusion

            The Jesus Seminar’s biblical criticism is philosophical naturalism repackaged as a theological consensus from scholarly experts. As this essay has proposed, philosophical naturalism is an expression of scientism’s epistemology. If the sayings and acts of Jesus are not squared within the domain of entities amenable to scientific methodology, then it is not rational.[32] Since the basis of the seminar’s assumptions, procedures, and conclusions are in essence philosophical naturalism it is partnered with two primary problems inherent in its parent philosophy:

  • Philosophical naturalism is false since it rules out the existence of things we know in fact exist.[33]
  • Philosophical naturalism fails to explain and present arguments against evidence that make belief in God reasonable.[34]

 

Bibliography

Craig, William, and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2003).

Funk, R.W. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (New York: Macmillan, 1993).

Heisenberg, Werner. Physics and Beyond (New York: Harper and Row, 1971).

Hume, David. A Treatise of Human Nature, edited by L.A. Selby-Bigg (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894).

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins Edition, 2001).

Moreland, J.P, and MichaelWilkens. Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995)

 

ReligiousTolerance.ORG, “The Jesus Seminar: Conservative and Liberal Views”, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm (accessed May. 14, 2011).

 

Scoccio, Douglas. Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998).

Strobel, Lee. The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2007).


[1] Michael Wilkens and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 2.

[2] ReligiousTolerance.ORG, “The Jesus Seminar: Conservative and Liberal Views”, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm (accessed May. 14, 2011).

[3] Michael Wilkens and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 2.

[4] Ibid, 2.

[5] Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Beyond (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), 69.

[6] Douglas Scoccio, Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 354.

[7] ReligiousTolerance.ORG, “The Jesus Seminar: Conservative and Liberal Views”, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm (accessed May. 14, 2011).

[8] R.W. Funk, The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus (New York: Macmillan, 1993), 1.

[9] ReligiousTolerance.ORG, “The Jesus Seminar: Conservative and Liberal Views”, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm (accessed May. 14, 2011).

[10] Michael Wilkens and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 23.

[11] Douglas Scoccio, Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 359.

[12] Michael Wilkens and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995) 25.

[13] Lee Strobel, The Case for the Real Jesus (Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2007), 30-31.

[14] ReligiousTolerance.ORG, “The Jesus Seminar: Conservative and Liberal Views”, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm (accessed May. 14, 2011).

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Douglas Scoccio, Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 358.

[18] Michael Wilkens and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 5.

[19] ReligiousTolerance.ORG, “The Jesus Seminar: Conservative and Liberal Views”, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm (accessed May. 14, 2011).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Michael Wilkens and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 56.

[24] Ibid, 56.

[25] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperCollins Edition, 2001), 52.

[26] John 14:6-7.

[27] ReligiousTolerance.ORG, “The Jesus Seminar: Conservative and Liberal Views”, http://www.religioustolerance.org/chr_jsem.htm (accessed May. 14, 2011).

[28] Douglas Scoccio, Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 372.

[29] William Craig and J.P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downers Grove,IL: InterVarsity Press Academic, 2003), 98-100.

[30] Douglas Scoccio, Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 365.

[31] David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, edited by L.A. Selby-Bigg (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1894) section 2.

[32] Michael Wilkens and J.P. Moreland, Jesus Under Fire (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), 9.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

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Intelligent Design

Introduction

I recently attended a science and faith workshop sponsored by Baylor University. The purpose of the workshop was to educate lay Christians with scientific trends and better harmonize the trends with the Christian faith. The workshop was held at the First Methodist Church of Austin, Texas and well attended by a diverse demographic of Christian laity from teachers and scientists, to pastors and ranchers. The panel of speakers at the workshop consisted of professors of physics, biology, and philosophy from Baylor University, a nationally ranked university which openly promotes Christian purposes through education. Although the philosophy lectures were enlightening and promoted an attitude of openness to new ideas, the professors of science presented a dogmatic perspective of secular attitudes.  “Evolution is an established fact and Christians just need to get over it” quipped the Baylor professor of biology. Later in the question and answer time, one bewildered man asked, “How come our church leaders have not let us in on all these facts?” 

In this essay, I will present a case to Christians that Intelligent Design is a viable scientific alternative to evolution in explaining the origin of life and species in our universe. First, I will counter the Baylor biology professor’s claim that evolution is a fact that is accepted by scientists. Second, I will present Intelligent Design as a viable scientific theory for explaining the origin of our universe, life, and species.  Last, I will provide rebuttals to common criticisms by evolutionary scientists opposed to the theory of Intelligent Design.

Evolution – Fact or Theory?

The theory of evolution has been a thorn in the side of many evangelicals who seek to harmonize science with faith. The biblical account of creation does not intuitively jive with the propositions set forth by evolution. Neither does the evidence. The most militant scientific zealot for evolution, Richard Dawkins, warned “biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of being designed for a purpose.”[1] Francis Crick, co discoverer of the DNA structure, reminded his colleagues in the biology profession to “constantly keep in mind that what they see is not designed, but … evolved.”[2] Warnings to ignore what seems to be obvious to pursue what is not make one suspicious. It is granted that the genesis creation story is a simple explanation for the initiation of complex activity commencing ex nihilo. But does simplicity mean it is flawed in truth?

Fortunately, there are many life origin theories that include a supernatural cause in the scientific community. The most limiting theory of transcendence within a theological framework is theistic evolution. This theory is very similar to naturalistic evolution and is in general agreement with it. In this scheme, God is relegated to the role of Aristotle’s prime mover but His design activity is hidden in the unfolding of evolutionary processes. This theory depreciates the value of natural revelation, God’s other book. The Psalmist proclaims that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.”[3] Many scientists consider the necessity for harmony between God’s books. The mysteries of origins should tell us more about God and not mask His handiwork. Why is it important for some scientists to find a way to exclude the obvious signs of design?

As modern science has developed the body of physical laws, the seeking of natural causes has all but eliminated consideration of supernatural causes altogether. Therefore, evolution is a theory based on the rule that only natural causes can be used as an explanation for life and the origin of the species. It is more accurately named a worldview absent of the supernatural rather than a scientific fact. Therefore, when a scientist makes the claim that evolution is fact, she is testifying to a scientific theory compatible with a naturalistic worldview and not about the consensus of the scientific profession.

To be a scientist does not necessitate that one is a naturalist. Many scientists have developed theories that include the transcendent activity of God and offer powerful criticisms of evolution. The key to overturning naturalism is design.

Scientific Theories Supporting Intelligent Design

Intelligent Design is not bounded in the closed box of natural causes. It is not limited to a specific worldview and includes the possibility of supernatural causes. The exploration of supernatural and natural causes can also be categorized between Origin and Operation science. Operation science deals with natural events that occur over and over again in a predictable manner. Origin science investigates how things began.[4] In general, operation science is testable and falsifiable. Origin science does not fall neatly into these criteria. Intelligent Design is categorized as Origin science while evolution tries to fit into an operation science with its processes still unfolding to this day.

A fundamental concept of Intelligent Design is irreducible complexity. “A system is irreducibly complex if it consists of interrelated parts so that removing even one part completely destroys the system’s function.”[5]   Darwin confessed “if it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed which could not be formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications” his theory would “absolutely break down.”[6] Evolution is based on cumulative complexity where the sequential removal of components does not lead to loss of function.  Irreducible complexity is contrasted with cumulative complexity.[7] An inquiry into the world of microbiology will lead to many examples of what appears to be irreducible complexity.  From the standpoint of Intelligent Design, the burden of proof lies more heavily with the proof of cumulative complexity than with the evidence of irreducible complexity. The complexity of microbiological machines infers a larger scope for the intellectual credibility of Intelligent Design in the Theory of Information.

The Theory of Information is based on the law of conservation of information.  Basically stated, information is not sourced by natural causes and is only found in intelligent sources. The scientific method can be evidenced in the theory of information as information is detected and traced to its origin.  Methods are utilized and inferences made on the observations.[8] The relevance of the theory of information to evolution lies in the statistical probabilities that chance can convey the information necessary to explain the complexity of species and the delicate balance of the fine tuned nature of our universe. At the heart of information theory is the notion of Complex Specified Information or CSI. The major flaw of evolution lies in its dependence on chance. Chance cannot generate CSI.

The French mathematician Emilie Borel defined the boundary of chance as a probability below 10-50. If an event, such as the alignment of molecules to form DNA, has a probability of occurring by random selection that is less than 10-50, then it by definition of the boundary of chance cannot happen.[9] The only alternative cause for the event is intelligent design. Even Richard Dawkins concedes “we can accept a certain amount of luck in our explanations, but not too much … we can allow ourselves the luxury of an extravagant theory [evolution], provided that the odds of coincidence do not exceed 100 billion billion to one [10-20].”[10] Note that Dawkins has a lower standard for chance than even Borel. Mathematicians officially challenged evolutionary biologists in 1966 at a symposium at the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia about the numbers of chance opportunities for mutations. “There is considerable gap in the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution, and … it cannot be bridged with the current conception of biology.”[11] Despite the intellectual credibility of Intelligent Design among scientists and mathematicians, there are notable Christian scientists who raise objections to the propositions of the theory.

Objections to Intelligent Design as a Scientific Theory

Francis Collins is a Christian biologist who headed the Human Genome Project. In his book, The Language of God, Collins raises several objections to Intelligent Design to contrast with his Theistic Evolution perspective. First, Intelligent Design fails to qualify as a scientific theory. According to Collins, a scientific theory must provide a framework for the past and the future. It must make predictions and suggest experimentation to validate the theory. “Outside the development of a time machine, verification of the ID theory seems profoundly unlikely.”[12]

For Collins, the ability for hypothesis testing is a litmus test for the advancement of a scientific theory. Therefore, according to Collins, forensics and cryptography may not be legitimate science. Both are dedicated to the inquiry of whether or not causes were natural or premeditated. But Intelligent Design does provide a framework for hypothesis testing for past and future events. Defining complexity in probability terms is quantitative as a prediction technique. Intelligent Design operates on the law of conservation of information and is dedicated to finding its origin and flow. This law predicts that information cannot be generated by natural causes and the traceability of information lies in intelligent causes. Intelligent Design is a science involved in the measurement and detection of information.[13]

Collins also objects that Intelligent Design offers no mechanism for supernatural intervention. He refers to the irreducible complexity notion of preloaded genes that unload over billions of years of time as improbable and, as of yet, undiscovered. Collins cannot conceive of this “storehouse of information” to have survived the expansion of the universe to its time of critical necessity.[14]

Although, the notion of preloaded genes is a suggested possibility by Michael Behe, a microbiologist proponent of Intelligent Design, it is not core to the theory of Intelligent Design. The theory is dedicated to intelligence as the cause of an event, and not the naturalistic mechanism by which the event manifest itself to existence. Collins also uses a double standard for criticizing Behe’s preloaded gene for not yet being discovered. Evolution is still unconfirmed in much of its theory in the fossil record. However, Collins misses the essence of Intelligent Design in his “no supernatural intervention” argument. The goal of Intelligent Design theory is to determine the origin of information. The supernatural intervention is the impartation of design and a naturalistic smoking gun is antithetic to the theory.

Collins advises that “the primary scientific arguments for ID … is in the process of crumbling” as examples of irreducible complexity are found to be reducible. He cites the human blood clotting cascade, the human eye, and the bacterial flagellum. Collins presents advances in knowledge of these three classic examples of irreducible complexity that “honest evaluation of current knowledge leads to the conclusion” that Darwin’s challenge of demonstrating the impossibility of gradual formation of organisms to still be found wanting.[15]

But in each of Collins’ three examples of knowledge disproving irreducibility, the description admits that only part of the function of the organism has been better understood with regards to origin. The blood clotting cascade hypothesis is concluded with the confession “admittedly we cannot precisely outline the order of steps  … we may never be able to do so, because the host organisms … are lost in history.”[16] For the human eye, Collins recites a litany of light sensing organisms from simple to complex to provide evidence that evolution accomplished the feat of this complex function. His description is a brief summary of Behe’s detailed description of the biochemistry of vision in Darwin’s Black Box.[17] Behe details the improbabilities that exist for leaps from the simplest light sensing organisms through to the human eye while Collins broadly uses the commonality of light sensing in these organisms as a roadmap for evolution. This difference in explanations is a microcosm of the typical rigor applied between evolution and Intelligent Design. As a restatement of the old cliché, the “design” is in the details.

Intelligent Design is a viable scientific theory for explaining the origins of the universe, life, and species. Intelligent Design is more robust as origin science explanation in that it allows supernatural causes. Furthermore, the advancement of the notion that evolution is fact can often be relegated to the prejudice of scientists with naturalistic worldviews. Therefore, it behooves the person of faith to “do [their] best to present [themselves] to God as one approved … who correctly handles the word of truth.”[18]
Bibliography

Behe, Michael. Darwin’s Black Box. New York: Touchstone, 1996.

Borel, Emilie. Probabilities and Life. New York: Dover, 1962.

Collins, Francis. The Language of God.  New York:  Free Press, 2006.

Crick, Francis. What Mad Pursuit. New York: Basic Books, 1988.

Darwin, Charles. Origin of Species 6th Edition. New York: New York University Press, 1988.

Dawkins,  Richard. The Blind Watchmaker.  New York: Norton, 1986.

Dembski, William. Intelligent Design. Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.

Geisler, Norman. When Skeptics Ask. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990.

Schutzenberger, M.P. Algorithms and the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution. Philadelphia: Wistar Institute Press, 1967.


[1] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker (New York: Norton, 1986), 1.

[2] Francis Crick, What Mad Pursuit (New York: Basic Books, 1988), 138.

[3] Psalm 19:1.

[4] Norman Geisler, When Skeptics Ask (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), 215.

[5] William Dembski, Intelligent Design (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 147.

[6] Charles Darwin, Origin of Species 6th Edition (New York: New York University Press, 1988), 154.

[7] Dembski, Intelligent Design, 147.

[8] Ibid, 15.

[9] Emilie Borel, Probabilities and Life (New York: Dover, 1962), 28.

[10] Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker, 139.145-146.

[11] M.P. Schutzenberger, Algorithms and the Neo-Darwinian Theory of Evolution (Philadelphia: Wistar Institute Press, 1967), 75.

[12] Francis Collins, The Language of God (New York:  Free Press, 2006), 187.

[13] Dembski, Intelligent Design, 18.

[14] Collins, The Language of God, 188.

[15] Collins, The Language of God, 193.

[16] Ibid, 190.

[17] Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box (New York: Touchstone, 1996), 16-22.

[18] 2 Tim 2:15

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The Mosaic Law and Christianity

A personal observation of mine is that there exists a paradox in the human desire for liberty. Most human beings intellectually endorse liberty. Americans extol the noble intents of our founding fathers as they recite the pledge of allegiance stanza “with liberty and justice for all.” It seems that most present day and historical cultures view liberty as a right imparted to the human species. Great moral systems through out history are thematic around the notion that liberty is a good thing. The paradoxes that I perceive is that although we intellectually ascend towards liberty, the cultures that we help build converge towards bondage. This is a consequence of the fall. We desire true liberty but are incapable of legislating it amongst ourselves.

Our species has struggled to make the right choices about liberty. Systems designed to promote liberty have brought bondage. In this essay, I will explicate the value of the Mosaic law to Christians from the perspective of being liberated from its rule. While my essay will utilize references from scholarly theologians, my audience is the lay Christian who wrestles with the relevance of the Old Testament and the Mosaic law. As I discussed the topic with my wife, I was surprised to find out that she believed the New Testament essentially eliminated the relevance of the Mosaic law in her life. This is clearly near the opposite end of the Christian theological continuum from the Theonomic view of Mosaic law hermeneutics which will be described later in the essay.

Given the full spectrum of opinion and formal doctrine, I will present four assertions supporting the theological position that the Mosaic law is no longer binding on Christians. First I will detail examples of history that further expands upon my introduction that human systems progress towards subjugation rather than liberation and this human tendency influences the Christians’ application of Mosaic law. Secondly, I will make a case that the Mosaic law should be considered holistically as a historical-parenthetical covenant rather than partitioned amongst moral, ceremonial, and civil components for application to the New Covenant. My tertiary assertion will explain that the fourth commandment of the Decalogue to keep the Sabbath holy is essentially abrogated by current Christian practices whether by intent or ignorance. Finally, I will correlate New Testament scripture with the Mosaic law. This final point will compel the redeemed of the Gospel to better understand the synergistic value of both testaments to our personal relationships with Jesus Christ in light of the Mosaic law’s non-binding legal status.

The Cultic Trend Towards Bondage

Individuals long to be free but cultural systems gravitate towards control. An example of this thesis is evident in the history of the United States government. Our founding fathers understood the nature of sinful man and sought to frame a constitution which limited control and guaranteed freedoms. George Washington’s fear of the cultural tendencies of state control lead him to the opinion that “government is not reason; it is not eloquence. It is force. And force, like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”[1] The wisdom of our forefathers advised that less government is the best government.  In our modern political vernacular, our founding fathers would be considered libertarians. Libertarians have been considered a fringe party in our society since its inception in 1971 and only represent 0.18% of registered voters in the United States.[2] [3] I am not advocating a political position with the above statements but making the point that cultural systems move from liberty towards control and the majorities in the society tend to migrate with the system. No one can deny that the size and scope of the United States government has moved drastically away from our founding fathers’ visionary concept. A cultic system more germane to the topic is the evolution of Mosaic law interpretation in Judaism. 

God’s relationship with Israel progressed through Abrahamic, Mosaic, and Davidic covenants.[4] The law associated with the Mosaic covenant was originally transcribed from oral to written form primarily from the canonical books of Exodus and Leviticus. The law continued to expand as legal commentary from the days of Ezra was interpreted and recorded in the Mishnah.[5] This voluminous evolution of law over the centuries would make any lawyer or politician jealous.

The Mishnah was produced by rabbis who interpreted what the Torah really meant for second century A.D Jews. The six divisions of the law commentary was a structure of additional complementary laws to the primary law of the canon.[6] Among the subjects detailed in the Mishnah are times of the morning prayers, Jewish marriage ceremonies, limitations of the liability of someone who watches another’s property, whether cheese and meat can be on the same table, and the amount of drawn water which invalidates a ritual bath.[7] Notorious among the Mishnah content are the laws related to the keeping of the Sabbath. The minutiae of documented behavior for this day made it almost impossible for obedience. Jesus rebuked the teachers of the Jewish law, “woe to you., teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.”[8] With the propensity of Judaism to expand legalism in the lives of its followers, it is not surprising that the first century Christian church had early controversies of legalism at inception.

Barnabas and Peter both yielded to the pressure of imposing circumcision on Gentile believers at Antioch. The pressure came from Jewish Christians who insisted that circumcision was essential to the new faith. Upon Paul’s arrival in Antioch, he sternly admonished Peter in front of the Jewish Christians holding to the imperative of circumcision “know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ…we, too have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law.”[9] The human tendency to hold on to the security of the Mosaic law was appealing to Jews who became followers of Christ. This tendency had the potential to extinguish the momentum of the Christian faith but God used Paul, an expert in Jewish law, to mitigate this trend. Clearly certain ceremonial traditions of the Jewish faith were eliminated from imposition of early Christians. But were there other laws and traditions that were to continue?

The Unity of the Mosaic Law

The book, Law and the Gospel, presents five theological positions on the application of the Mosaic law to Christians. The five positions consider the tripartite quality of the Mosaic law and agree that the general categories are moral, ceremonial, and civil. The differences among the positions relate to which categories, if any, are still binding on Christians. The strongest application of Mosaic law is presented in the Reformed Theonomic framework. While the Theonomic conclusion stipulates that the civil and moral portions of the law are still binding on Christians, this opinion acknowledges that the ceremonial aspect of the law is not. “Some discontinuities with the Mosaic law are redemptive-historical …while others are cultural in character.”[10] But the application of the various categories seems somewhat subjective.

All positions agree that the Decalogue is moral in content and presents a picture of God’s holy character. All positions agree that the ceremonial aspects of the law are abrogated from Christian adherence. However, compelling arguments are made for the binding nature of the moral aspect of the Mosaic law in three of the five views. It is my opinion that the segregation and categorical application of the Mosaic law has the benefit of centuries of Christendom hindsight. Some of the civil and ceremonial aspects of the law are now culturally irrelevant and therefore are easily disregarded as binding. Jews in Jesus days did not distinguish the law’s application into categories and there was insistence that the law was a unit and was to be obeyed in totality.[11] And the early church did not have the advantage of distant perspective.

Fortunately, God provided the apostle Paul the ministry of guiding the early church with divinely inspired revelation on the matter of Jewish law. “I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”[12] James, a converted Jewish skeptic of his half-brother Jesus asserted “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”[13] Advocates of views which claim the moral or both moral and civil as binding to Christians, leverage the New Testament teaching on the law to the ambiguity relating to the Greek word “nomos.” Paul uses the phrase “under the law” eleven times in his epistles. There are three general interpretations of the meaning of this Pauline phrase amongst scholars interpreting the phrase: (1) condemnation pronounced by the law (2) legalistic perversion of the law and (3) the law as a regime. The Modified Lutheran perspective provides the least subjective and unambiguous explanation of Paul’s use of “nomos”. Douglas Moo, the proponent of the Modified Lutheran hermeneutic in Five Views on Law and Gospel, advises that all eleven instances of Paul’s use of the phrase “under the law” can be interpreted in the regime sense. Moo totally disregards the legalistic interpretation and suggests that the condemnation interpretation may also be considered to augment the regime interpretation.[14] I agree with Moo’s opinion.

All five views of the application of the Mosaic law agree that the regime interpretation is legitimate for many scriptures. Willem VanGemeran, advocate for the Non-Theonomic Reformed opinion in Five Views on Law and Gospel, admits that “Paul’s thought about the law is difficult to understand because he seems to make numerous contradictory statements.”[15] An example of a difficult passage for Mosaic law proponents is Colossians 2:13-14. “God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all of our sins, having canceled the written code with its regulations, that was against us and opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”[16] VanGemeran uses this Pauline scripture as evidence that the ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic law is abrogated. Upon reviewing the context of this passage, it is difficult to see how one would surmise the ceremonial category of the law to apply to Paul’s the “canceling the written code” phrase. VanGemeran is guilty of applying his hermeneutic framework for this supposition without regard to the frame of reference. Surely the simplest explanation for the interpretation of Paul’s teaching on the law is to consider the Mosaic law as a whole and not from the perspective of a pre-conceived doctrinal framework. But the most inconsistent application by Mosaic law adherents lies in the Decalogue itself, which three of the views assert as binding moral law for the church. The inconsistency is related to the fourth commandment requiring the observance of the Sabbath.


What Shall We Do with the Sabbath?

The Sabbath command in Exodus 20:8 is one of two in the Decalogue which are positively expressed. However, the practical outworking of Sabbath obedience was negative for Israel in that the interpretation of law associated with observance became a burden. The burden of caution in assuring obedience to the law offset the most characteristic feature of observance which was the absence of work. Exodus 34:21 emphasized the seriousness of work abstinence with the warning that obedience must be maintained “in plowing time and in harvest” which was the busiest time of the year in the Israelite agricultural society. Exodus 31:14 explicitly prescribes the punishment for disobedience.[17] [18] “Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death.”[19] Surely this commandment was important to God and the Mosaic covenant.

Advocates of the moral law obedience imperative for Christians cite Jesus expansion of the fifth and sixth commandments against murder and adultery as examples of His endorsement of the Decalogue for all time. “Anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”[20] “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”[21] Do Jesus commands reconfirm the application of the Decalogue for the New Covenant or abrogate by super ceding the earlier? I believe the latter. If Jesus intended to expand the scope of the fifth and sixth commandments with heart motives, His treatment of the fourth command is antithetical to this orientation. In the fifth chapter of John, Jesus is persecuted by the Jews for healing people on the Sabbath. Jesus replied,”My Father is always at work to this very day, and I too am working.”[22] Jesus most radical proclamation of the Sabbath is found in Mark 2:27-28. “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Rather than endorsing and expanding the Decalogue’s fourth commandment, Jesus pronounced His prerogative to change and define how His followers are to act on this day which was not in keeping with the Jews Sabbath rituals.[23]

A review of the history of the Lord’s Day in Christendom betrays the popular notion that this tradition is essentially the New Testament keeping of the Sabbath. The Apostle Paul admonished early Christians about the Sabbath in two specific instances. The Roman church had a dispute about the sacredness of days and Jewish Christians sought to encumber Gentile believers with Judaic traditions. Paul clarifies the issue in Romans 14:5. “One man considers one day more sacred than another, another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. He who does so, does so to the Lord.”[24] Paul deals with the Colossian church in another dispute about sacred days with an affirmation of the Romans passage. “Therefore, do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink or … a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”[25] The notion of periodic rest and corporate worship is indeed a meaningful priority for Christians. The cycle of resting on the seventh day may be morally implied by the model of our Lord in creation. But rest and worship are not to be done in the name of Sabbath obedience. If this were the case, most Christians would be abhorrently disobedient to the fourth Mosaic commandment of the Decalogue with their weekly practices.


Mosaic Law to the Gospel – Shadow to Fulfillment 

If the Mosaic law is no longer binding on the Christian, as I have articulated thus far, then of what relevance and value is this era’s salvation history to me? Three purposes of the Mosaic law are enumerated in the Modified Lutheran perspective: (1) to reveal God’s character to Israel and demand conformance, (2) to supervise Israel before the coming of Christ, and (3) to imprison all people under sin.[26] What can be inferred from the purposes is that the law was not intended as a means of salvation. “If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”[27]

“The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming – not the realities themselves.”[28] The foreshadowing provided by the Mosaic law provide a historical backdrop for revealing God’s ultimate plan of salvation upon the earth in Jesus Christ. The continual failures of Israel to comply with the Mosaic law are poignantly prophesied through out the Old Testament. Had it not been for the law, the clarity of the disobedience would not be fully understood to modern readers nor would the Holiness of God and the requirements for a relationship with Him. “Therefore, my brothers, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.”[29] The law’s failure for deliverance from sin is the most persistent theme in the Old Testament.[30] Therefore, a key purpose of the historical perspective of the Mosaic law is to establish the necessity for the New Covenant and to foreshadow its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. Jesus summarized the link between the Mosaic law and Himself, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”[31]

Conclusion

Systems with the noblest of intentions often deteriorate from the spirit of their aspirations to legalism. The Abrahamic covenant began with the recognition that “Abram believed and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[32] The beginning of the Jewish faith was that simple. The Mosaic law was dictated by God to reveal the standard of His righteousness but it degenerated into a legalism that brought death. But throughout the failures of God’s people to live up to the standard of the Mosaic law, a New Covenant was prophesied to provide hope and contrast the old. The New Covenant is fulfilled by the Law of Christ.  

Jesus summarized the essence of the Law of Christ in Matthew 22:37-40. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and Prophets hang on these two commandments.”[33] Certainly, human attempts at religious systems will try to complicate the Law of Christ. But the Holy Spirit dwells within us and as foretold by the prophet Jeremiah. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.”[34] Love is the substance of the Law of Christ. The New Covenant is not a code, list of commandments, and prohibitions but the teachings of Christ enabled within us by the Holy Spirit.[35] And “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”[36]

Bibliography:

Bahnsen, Greg, Walter Kaiser, Douglas Moo, Wayne Strickland, and Willem VanGemeren. Five Views on Law and Gospel. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1999.

Baylis, Albert. From Creation to the Cross. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

 

Carson, D.A. From Sabbath to the Lord’s Day. Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1982.

Hopfe, Lewis and Mark Woodward. Religions of the World, 8th Edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001.

Libertarian Party. “How large is the Libertarian Party,” Libertarian Party FAQ. http://www.lp.org/.

My Jewish Learning. “Mishnah: A Description of Judaism’s Primary Book of Jewish Legal Theory”, My Jewish Learning. http//www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/rabinnic/Talmud/Mishnah.shtml.

US Department of Commerce. Voters and Registration in the Election of 2006.  US Census Bureau, June 2008.

US Government Department of Justice and Government Abuse. “Spirit of America Liberty Quotes”. Liberty Watch. http://dojgov.net/Liberty_Watch.


[1] US Government Department of Justice and Government Abuse. “Spirit of America Liberty Quotes”. Liberty Watch. http://dojgov.net/Liberty_Watch (accessed Dec. 10, 2010).

[2] Libertarian Party, “How large is the Libertarian Party,” Libertarian Party FAQ, http://www.lp.org/faq (accessed Dec. 11, 2010).

[3] US Department of Commerce, Voters and Registration in the Election of 2006, US Census Bureau, June 2008, 4.

[4] Albert Baylis, From Creation to the Cross (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 87-90, 100.

[5] Lewis Hopfe, and Mark Woodward, Religions of the World, 8th Edition (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2001), 252-253.

[6] Ibid, 252.

[7] My Jewish Learning, “Mishnah: A Description of Judaism’s Primary Book of Jewish Legal Theory”, My Jewish Learning, http//www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/rabinnic/Talmud/Mishnah.shtml (accessed Dec. 11, 2010).

[8] Matt. 23:25.

 

[10] Greg Bahnsen, Walter Kaiser, Douglas Moo, Wayne Strickland, and Willem VanGemeren, Five Views on Law and Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1999), 100.

[11] Ibid. 337.

[12] Gal. 5:3

[13] James 2:10

[14] Greg Bahnsen, Walter Kaiser, Douglas Moo, Wayne Strickland, and Willem VanGemeren, Five Views on Law and Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1999), 361.

[15] Ibid, 40.

[16] Col. 2:13-14.

[17] D.A. Carson, From Sabbath to the Lord’s Day (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1982), 352.

[18]Exodus 34:21.

[19] Exodus 31:14.

[20] Matt. 5:21-22.

[21] Matt. 5:28.

[22] John 5:17.

[23] D.A. Carson, From Sabbath to the Lord’s Day (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 1982), 363.

[24] Rom. 14:5.

[25] Col. 2:16-17.

[26] Greg Bahnsen, Walter Kaiser, Douglas Moo, Wayne Strickland, and Willem VanGemeren, Five Views on Law and Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1999), 326.

[27] Gal. 2:21

[28] Heb. 10:1.

[29] Acts. 13:38-39.

[30] Greg Bahnsen, Walter Kaiser, Douglas Moo, Wayne Strickland, and Willem VanGemeren, Five Views on Law and Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1999),335.

[31] Matt. 5:17.

[32] Gen. 15:6.

[33] Matt. 22:37-40

[34] Jer. 31:33

[35] Greg Bahnsen, Walter Kaiser, Douglas Moo, Wayne Strickland, and Willem VanGemeren, Five Views on Law and Gospel (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1999),368.

[36] John 8:36.

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Miracles and the Resurrection

“In the beginning was the word … The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.” The incarnation is all about the ultimate historical invasion of the supernatural into the natural. Thus the translation of the English “word”, in the first chapter of the gospel of John, from the original Greek “logos” has primary significance for the discussion of miracles and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. According to Strong’s Greek dictionary, a synonym for “logos” is reason. The Reason for reality is a transcendent God and the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the climax of natural history. The naturalist who rejects Christianity due to the miraculous implications of the resurrection is hopelessly lost from finding God. “Those who make religion their god will not have God for their religion.” God is by necessity supernatural and if a person has an issue with the supernatural then any religion they choose to serve will be void of God.
My thesis is to make the case for the necessity of miracles in the Christian worldview and communicate evidence for the ultimate miracle which is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The audience for this essay is the naturalist or skeptic who finds the doctrine of the resurrection a major stumbling block to being a follower of Christ. First, I will establish a working definition for a miracle and express a position that the supernatural process of reason is essential for proving anything. After this foundation is laid, I will use generally accepted historical facts to erect a framework upon which one can have high confidence in the historicity of the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ.
C.S. Lewis eloquently defined a miracle as an “interference with Nature by supernatural power.” This definition excludes highly improbable events that occur by natural law. Christians claim a supernatural resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was a miracle as defined by Lewis and not an event that occurred through a collection of highly improbable natural conditions. The miracle of the resurrection is the most spectacular instantiation of the supernatural in all of earth’s history. Voltaire defined a miracle as “the violation of mathematical, divine, immutable, eternal laws” and declared that miracles cannot occur. His definition is a contradiction. Miracles are outside the domain of immutable natural laws. He missed the whole point that miracles authenticate the supernatural by superseding natural law in the context of reality. But is there a more fundamental problem than the definition of miracles that makes the naturalist worldview contradictory? The demand for evidence of miracles assumes that there is hope for persuasion. To the pure skeptic, no such hope exists. David Hume denied that causes can be deduced from effects. Therefore, what is the point of evidence? Hume was brutally honest about his impenetrable position. And Hume is correct for the skeptic and bona fide naturalist. To reason is to operate in the supernatural and without reason it is impossible to persuade.
The word “natural” has etymological root in the Latin word “physis” which means to go on of its own accord. In our lives it is rational thoughts which initiate and enable us to alter the course of nature. Nature does not invoke rational thought and without reason, nature’s progress could not be altered. Indeed nature often interferes with the supernatural reasoning process when our consciousness is detracted by sickness or anxiety. But although rationality does not depend on nature it does not exist absolutely on its own. Reason can be contagiously spawned from others’ reason for reason begets reason. However, lest we fall into infinite regression of cause and effect for rational thought, the Christian ultimately sources rational thought in self-existent Reason, God, the logos. The skeptic’s argument against miracles and its greatest example is circular and begs the question.
1. All that exists is nature.
2. Miracles are outside of nature.
3. Miracles do not exist.

The absurdity of this logic follows for reason.
1. All that exists is nature.
2. Reason is outside of nature.
3. Reason does not exist.

Thus far, I have proposed that the skeptic must permit the supernatural process of reason to be persuaded that miracles can occur. What follows are four accepted historical facts about the resurrection of Jesus Christ which I will use to establish that the miracle of Jesus’ resurrection is a highly probable historical event:
1. Disciples were transformed from doubters to bold advocates of His death and resurrection.
2. As a result of the disciples’ preaching, the church was born and grew.
3. James, a skeptic, was persuaded to believe the resurrection when he saw what he believed to be the resurrected Jesus.
4. Paul likewise was persuaded to believe the resurrection when he saw what he believed to be the resurrected Jesus.

These four facts are a subset of twelve facts put forth by Dr. Craig Hazen’s lecture, Evidence for the Resurrection. Each of these facts relies on the credibility of witnesses for veracity. David Hume proposed that it is always more rational to believe in deception than to believe the testimony for a miracle. His conviction is based on the accumulation of experiences resulting from natural law. Miracles are statistically off the charts according to Hume and the benefit of doubt, with regards to a decision on evidence for a miracle, should always go to the normality of the natural. But Hume’s famous objection stimulated probability theorists to include the reliability of witnesses along with the probability of the event before rendering total probability. For example, a 7 digit lottery number being reported in the morning news includes two components for probability consideration, the 7 digit lottery number and the morning news. The 7 digit number has a 1 in 10,000,000 probability of being selected and the morning news has a probability of reporting the number correctly. Would the morning news report it incorrectly? Probably not. Thus the reliability of the testimony greatly impacts the probability that the highly improbable 1 in 10,000,000 lottery number reported is indeed the selected number. The four historical facts listed earlier are related to the credibility of eyewitness testimony to the resurrection. For two witnesses of 99% reliability falsely reporting an event is 1 out of 10,000. As the number of witnesses increases to 6, the odds of mistakenly reporting the event are 1 out of 1,000,000,000,000. The 12 disciples along with the hostile witnesses of Paul and James impose a staggering high probability of truthful evidence for the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Christianity is a worldview which acknowledges the supernatural and natural for validation of historical events. But the historical evidence for the resurrection cannot persuade a skeptic or naturalist until the obstacle of supernatural rejection submits to the power of reason. Once reason is accepted in the miracle argument, the evidence of the resurrection of Jesus Christ precludes a natural explanation. Through the process of reasonable thinking, it becomes evident that it is highly probable that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was a miracle. Therefore, the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ bolsters the credibility for the truthfulness of other messages and events recorded about Jesus’ ministry on earth.
Bibliography:
Hazen, Craig. “Evidence for the Resurrection”. Lecture, Biola University, La Mirada, CA.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Oxford: Clarendon, 1975.

Lewis, C.S. Miracle. (San Francisco: HarpersCollins, 1947.

Moreland, J.P., and William Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003.

Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. 2001. 21st Century Edition. Grand Rapids MI: Zondervan.

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Belief in God is Rational

I am a professional scientist.  My expertise is in electrical engineering and therefore I am compensated for making rational decisions about electronic design in my employer’s products. My wife has, for the most part, been a stay at home wife and mother. I do not expect her to make rational decisions about electronic design and she does not rely heavily on my rationality for the goings on in her day to day world.  This often works out quite conveniently for me. In this essay, I will make an argument for the rationality of belief in the existence of God. However, when applying the term “rational” to the existence of God, who should be relied upon for expertise?

Synonyms for rational are analytical, balanced, calm, cerebral, sensible, and level headed.[1] From this list, I associate the synonyms analytical and cerebral to my professional work.  I associate the synonyms balanced, calm, sensible, and level headed to my wife’s domain. In this essay, I will present a case for the existence of God as a rational foundation for a worldview. The perspective of reliance for rational criteria will be the common person. There is a saying that common sense is not all that common. Often the bigger questions of life are delegated to scientists, philosophers, and theologians. But are these sources likely to be common? The formation of a worldview and the God question should not be left up to uncommon intellects but be personally reasoned. Therefore, the most effective case for the existence of God should be sensible and level headed to the common sense nature innate within us all. 

The first point I shall articulate argues from the common sense notion of cause and effect.  Why is their anything at all?  My second point argues from our very nature.  We are moral beings that think, form opinions, and volitionally act upon our thoughts and opinions.

An informal observation of mine is that most people have wondered why anything exists at all. Our sensory system becomes aware of cause and effect at an early age. You often have to read about the philosophy of skeptic David Hume to plant a seed of doubt in this well experienced law of nature.  To doubt cause and effect is not common. Aristotle, often considered the father of science, assigned four primary causes as explanations for things in the universe and these categorizations are still used by scientists and philosophers to this day.[2]

According to Aristotle, what a thing is made of, the form a thing takes, the motion that begins a thing into existence, and the ultimate purpose for a thing are defined as the material, formal, efficient, and final causes respectively.[3] Aristotle declared that any explanation of things which eliminated any of the four causes was deficient. Francis Bacon, the 16th century architect of the scientific method, e.g. Baconian Science, refused to permit the study of natural causes to hypothesize about formal and final causes.[4] Both of these pioneers of science were strong advocates of cause. Aristotle postulated an unmoved mover as the initial cause of everything and Bacon advocated the metaphysical for the definitions of formal and final causes.           

In the early days of the development of the scientific method, cause and effect relationships were categorized into primary and secondary causes. They classified natural causes and events as secondary. But causes that happened just once, such as singularities like Aristotle’s unmoved mover, were reserved for primary causes.[5]  The development of cosmology in the twentieth century has confirmed as a majority scientific theory that our universe had a beginning, e.g. The Big Bang Theory. Although this idea is a fundamental tenet of Judeo-Christian religion, the scientific evidence for the possibility of an ex nihilo universe has come full circle to Aristotle’s unmoved prime mover. The belief in the existence of God from the evidence of an ultimate, primary, and supernatural cause is rational and supported by many of the greatest thinkers in western civilization. To look to the natural for a primary cause is irrational by definition. Natural causes are caused, or in philosophical terms, contingent on other things for existence. Uncaused causes are supernatural. God is necessary for the existence of our universe as the supernatural uncaused cause of everything.

            With regard to rational thinking, it is ironic that the initiation of the age of Enlightenment is often credited to Rene Descartes, a mathematician and philosopher who sought to prove that God exists from a purely rational process.  It is ironic because the epistemological turn that he helped instigate began a trek that has popularized many “rational” worldviews that eliminate the need for God.  But at the root of Descartes’ Cogito Ergo Sum, “I think, therefore, I am” is a powerful argument for the existence of God.[6] Thought is intuitively volitional.  One has to really play mind tricks to pretend that one’s thinking is a result only of natural processes. Therefore, it is quite common to agree that thoughts are supernaturally imparted.

More powerful than the argument for the supernatural from general thinking are moral thoughts. Human beings have an innate sense of right and wrong. Where does this come from? Some have argued that moral law is culturally adapted like a herd mentality. C.S. Lewis differentiates culturally-prompted-moral thinking from instinctive moral inclinations by comparing an innate moral “ought to” to the likes of motherly love, sexual, and food appetites.  Common to all is the “strong desire or want to act in a certain way.”[7] When an individual hears a cry for help, two instincts occur. One is arguably a herd instinct to help while the other is motivated by self-preservation to avoid danger. But there is a third desire which compels an individual that they ought to help and suppress the impulse to run from danger. Lewis calls this third desire, the strength of which is the determining factor between self and selflessness, the moral law.[8]

A common emotion resulting from the failure to obey a moral law is guilt and shame. But to whom or what do we feel this sense of guilt and shame in the absence of any witnesses? This emotion is best explained by a moral lawgiver who imparts the violated abstract law. It is the moral law and the strong feelings associated with obedience to the law which infers the existence of a moral lawgiver.[9] A moral lawgiver necessitates the existence of God.

I have presented two justifications for the existence of God based on experiences that are common to all. The supernatural cause of natural existence appeals to our expectation of a cause for an effect. God is the supernatural Cause. The moral law within is best explained by a moral lawgiver which is God. The denial of these human experiences is quite uncommon and derived from a worldview opposed to the concept of God. The burden of proof is upon these opposing worldviews to construct a rational argument against the existence of God in light of our human experience.


Bibliography:

Dembski, William. Intelligent Design. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999.  

Dictionary.com, LLC, “rational.”, http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/rational (accessed Nov. 25, 2010).

Geisler, Norman. When Skeptics Ask. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books. 1990.

Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1952.

Moreland, J.P. “Arguments for the Existence of God”. Lecture, Biola University, La Mirada, CA.

Scoccio, Douglas. Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998.

 

 


[1] Dictionary.com, LLC, “rational.”, http://www.thesaurus.com/browse/rational (accessed Nov. 25, 2010).

[2] Douglas Scoccio, Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 161.

[3] Ibid, 166.

[4] William Dembski, Intelligent Design (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 123.

[5] Norman Geisler, When Skeptics Ask (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1990), 213.

[6] Douglas Scoccio, Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1998), 302.

[7] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1952), 9.

[8] Ibid, 10.

[9] J.P. Moreland, “Arguments for the Existence of God” (Lecture, Biola University, La Mirada, CA).

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